As Chelsea head into tonight’s Europa League second leg against Steaua Bucharest, Rafael Benitez has joked that supporters will probably blame him for the fixture pile up that could see his side faced with the prospect of three games is six days at the start of April.
On the fixture pile up at Chelsea, boss Benitez said: "Maybe somebody else will blame me.
"They will say it's my fault, because everything is my fault. If something is wrong some people want to blame me, I have to manage this too. I will try to lead by example and concentrate on the next game. My job is to be sure that we compete in every competition."
Joking aside, the sheer volume of games the West London club are faced with could have serious implications for their season.
Tonight’s Europa League, in which they trail 1-0 from the first leg, represents Chelsea’s 52nd game of the season which has included the Champions’ League group stage, a run to the semi-finals of the League Cup, the Community Shield, the European Super Cup, the World Club Championship in Tokyo as well as the Europa League and FA Cup which they are still involved in on top of their league campaign.
Abramovich’s side currently occupy fourth place in the Premier League, and therefore the final Champions League qualification place, two points behind Tottenham with a game in hand and five points ahead of Arsenal.
Tottenham remain in the Europa League and look set to progress barring a disaster at the San Siro against Inter Milan, but are out of the FA Cup whilst Arsenal are now only involved in the league following last night’s Champions League exit to Bayern Munich.
Chelsea are in fact the only English team left involved in three competitions and last weekend’s draw with Manchester United in the FA Cup has meant they could even end up playing four times in eight days, beginning on March 30 when they travel to Southampton.
There were doubts over how seriously Chelsea would take their participation in the Europa League, following their elimination from the Champions League at the group stages but it seems clear that they are in in to win it with Benitez fielding full strength sides with the exception of some much needed rotation.
The motives for why are somewhat more murky it wouldn’t seem to be a competition that Abramovich would prioritise, it won’t generate much in terms of revenue and as European Champions they aren’t in need of the UEFA co-efficient points.
So is it Benitez? Despite frank admissions from the Spaniard that his job is on a short term basis only despite what he achieves, he does seem desperate to win anything he can to prove a point to the Chelsea supporters who have opposed him so strongly and keep alive the faint hopes of getting the job long term that he still harbours.
Chelsea have a strong recent history in the FA Cup and as defending champions will be loath to give up that crown, especially as it would mean going out at the hands of Manchester United so it seems that the squad will continue to be stretched to its fullest.
The risk is that by attempting to compete on all three fronts, their league form may ultimately suffer and with Arsenal lurking and Liverpool not much further behind they could lose their grip on fourth place.
While Benitez jokes that fans may blame him for the fixture pile up, he can be sure that if Chelsea fail to qualify for the Champions League the blame will firmly be at his door.
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