Moyes gets rewards with Victor

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech concedes that the club’s season is

likely to be shaped by events over the next nine days.

The Blues have found the going tough at times in 2012/13, with

an early exit from the UEFA Champions League and a mid-season

change in the dugout doing little for stability and

consistency.

Chelsea are, however, still looking to secure a top-four finish

in the Premier League, defend their FA Cup crown and land another

continental title in the form of the Europa League.

Four games in the space of a hectic week will go a long way to

deciding how they fare in each of those competitions, and Cech

admits the capital outfit have reached a critical stage of their

campaign.

He told The Times: “We need a great week, starting with

Southampton (on Saturday).

“If we have a great week, everyone will have a different view of

our season, the manager and the current situation.

“We play Southampton away and can move away from the teams who

are competing with us for a top-four finish. On Monday we can reach

the semi-finals of the FA Cup, which would be a great win.

“On Thursday there’s the home game against Rubin Kazan, where we

can take a huge leap towards the Europa League semi-finals and

winning the trophy.

“And next weekend we have an important Premier League game

(against Sunderland) and we can make the table much better.

“If we have a great week, everything will look much brighter.

Our confidence will be higher and the fans will have more joy.”

Future

Meanwhile, Cech has also been speaking about his own future and

the emergence of Thibaut Courtois as a serious contender to his

number one spot – with the Belgian having shone during a loan spell

at Atletico Madrid.

Cech said: “I can play another four or five years if I keep my

fitness and level of performance, but if I don’t play well I’m not

going to get picked.

“I’ve never had a guarantee that I will play, and Thibaut will

never have a guarantee. One day, if we end up in the same team at

the same time, the manager will have to pick a number one

goalkeeper.”

The Royals head into Saturday’s game at Arsenal seven points

adrift of safety, and facing an uphill battle to preserve their

top-flight status over the final eight fixtures.

Adkins, who was on Tuesday appointed as successor to Brian

McDermott, gave little away on his likely tactics or indeed team

news at his pre-match media conference, refusing to even confirm

whether goalkeeper Adam Federici had shrugged off his ankle

injury.

However, the former Scunthorpe and Southampton boss believes any

advantage his squad can gain could prove crucial as the fight for

survival heads to the wire.

“Normally, if someone is injured and it is obvious that they are

out, then it is no good turning around and saying they will be fit,

but just at this moment in time we need to somehow come up with

that element of surprise and that is what I have to utilise,” said

Adkins.

“I will use an example I had at Scunthorpe. We had (striker)

Gary Hooper and we went to a team, who I won’t mention, but there

was no way Gary would be fit and we didn’t let anyone know.

“All week that team had worked on stopping Gary Hooper and doing

certain things.

“We then went and played a totally different way with different

personnel, and they were absolutely gutted as they had spent all

week working on it.

“If they knew Gary wasn’t playing, then they might not have been

worried about it so much.

“We are going to the Emirates and it will be a great challenge,

but for now, I will keep my cards close to my chest and that might

just give us something, or it might not.”

Adkins suffered a 6-1 thrashing at the Emirates Stadium with

Southampton in September.

While his return to tackle the Gunners may have come sooner than

expected in the wake of his controversial sacking in January, the

48-year-old intends to make the most of the opportunity.

“It is all about experiences,” he said. “The experiences at

Bangor, Scunthorpe and Southampton have helped me be the Reading

manager.

“You can be placed in a situation once – make new mistakes, do

not make the same mistake twice.

“If you are in that situation again, you know how you reacted

last time and what the outcome was. “It is going to be a challenge

but we won’t complain, we just get on with it.”

Adkins added: “I am not a gambling man, but if people say ‘you

have not beaten them for ages’, then you are due to beat them at

some stage so why can’t we beat them next game?

“This season I have had a loss and a draw against Arsenal, so

maybe I am due a win.”

Benitez said it is “impossible” for players to be at their peak

for two matches inside 48 hours and the demands of back-to-back

fixtures will colour his selection.

But Chelsea’s interim manager admitted he does not have the same

luxury as Sir Alex Ferguson, who could name two entirely different

sides for Manchester United’s fixtures over the Easter weekend.

“We can’t do that. The difference between them and us is that

they are 15 points ahead (at the top of the Premier League),”

Benitez said.

“It is not an excuse. The reality is that their position in the

table gives them an advantage and they are out of the Champions

League. Their priority will be the FA Cup.

“We have to pick a very competitive team for Southampton. If we

can beat Southampton we will be keeping an eye on (trying to catch)

Manchester City.”

Chelsea are entering what Benitez described as the defining

period of their season, with five matches in the next 13 days

including quarter-finals in both the FA Cup and Europa League.

John Terry’s improving fitness is a boost for Benitez, who also

expects to have Gary Cahill and Ramires fit to face United on

Monday lunchtime.

The squad will come into training on Sunday, with those who play

against Southampton put through a light recovery session while the

rest focus on practice and tactics for the United game.

Benitez must be tempted to start with Demba Ba at the St Mary’s

Stadium because the Senegal striker has scored three times against

Southampton this season since his move to Chelsea.

Ba marked his debut with a double in the FA Cup and then scored

in the league at Stamford Bridge before Southampton came from 2-0

down to claim a draw.

“It is not easy to make a decision (on selection) because it is

impossible to be fully fit for the second game,” Benitez said.

“The day after a game you feel tired, two days after you feel

even more tired. That is the reality. The second day will be really

tough for everyone.

“All of them they can play (two games in 48 hours) but at what

level?

“Sometimes you can do it if you are not 100% but it depends on

each position and each player.”

If Ba plays against Southampton then Benitez may have to turn to

Fernando Torres to face United, which would be a bold call given

how the Spaniard has struggled for goals this season.

Benitez said: “Strikers want to score goals but for me it is not

just that, it is what they can do for their team.”

The Welshman was signed for City by compatriot Mark Hughes for a

reported ?14million in 2009 but fell out of favour after Roberto

Mancini’s arrival and left in 2011 after 51 appearances for the

club.

“I don’t understand why he managed me the way he did,” Bellamy

said of Mancini in an interview with the Daily Mail.

“I worked with people like Bobby Robson at Newcastle who taught

me how to be a footballer and a man. He did that even though I was

a selfish kid back then, a kid who let a great man down with some

things I did.

“He wanted us to come in and cherish what we were doing.

“Mancini was different but there was stuff I could have done

differently, too.

“I could have been more open but when Sparky (Hughes) went, I

shut down. I just wanted stuff to stay the same for me but I got a

change of manager and routine.

“I just clammed up, didn’t want to know. Typical.

“Mancini didn’t have to persevere with me because he could just

go and get someone else and that’s what happened.

“But I regret that. I could have made that work. That’s one I

messed up.”

The Canaries striker emerged as a dark horse for a call-up to

the national team ahead of Euro 2012 after netting 15 league goals

in the Canaries’ first season back in the top flight, but was

ultimately overlooked by England boss Roy Hodgson.

Holt claims the snub was down to Norwich not being viewed as

“fashionable”, and believes Southampton’s Rickie Lambert is the

victim of similar prejudice this season.

The 31-year-old Holt concedes his form this season is not worthy

of and England call-up – he has just five goals in all competitions

– but nevertheless frustration remains.

“It bugs me,” Holt told the Daily Telegraph. “I should have been

there in the summer; if not the Euros, I should definitely have had

the chance in the two friendlies before.

“It bugs me when a squad is called and I don’t hear Rickie

Lambert’s name mentioned once, not one breath, and he’s on form,

scoring, similar to what I did last year.

“Is it the ‘fashionable club’ thing? Are we so stuck in our ways

that you have to be at Manchester United, Arsenal or Tottenham?

“If I’d been at Arsenal as a kid, and done what I’d done last

year for Arsenal, would I have got in the squad? Yes. So what

difference does it make if I’m doing it for a so-called ‘lesser

team’ Norwich, banging 18 goals in?

“Why am I not getting a sniff? There was no contact.

“This year, there’s no way in the world I’m going to get called

up. My goal tally is not good enough, but that was disappointing

last year. I was scoring against the top teams, United, Arsenal,

Chelsea, and I don’t get the nod. It just disheartens me.

“When I then watched the Euros and saw England go out with a

whimper, it made it tougher to take. If they’d gone to the

semi-finals, it would have been easier to say I should never have

been near it.

“I watched that and thought, would I have made that

difference?”

The Potters – starting the weekend 11th in the Premier League on

34 points, seven clear of 18th-placed Wigan, who have a game in

hand – play seven more times this season after today’s trip to

Everton.

They follow the Goodison Park contest with a home double-header

against Aston Villa and Manchester United, and also host Norwich

and Tottenham, with their away fixtures taking them to QPR,

Sunderland and Southampton.

Stoke have lost five successive top-flight away matches and

managed only one win in their last 24, a sequence stretching back

to January 2012 – statistics that are in stark contrast to their

record at home, where they have been beaten just twice in 22 league

games.

And presumably with that in mind, Pulis has placed particular

emphasis on the importance of the fixtures the side have left at

the Britannia Stadium.

“We have got four big games at home and they are the ones in

which we are really looking to pick the points up and do well,”

Pulis said.

“We will go to Everton and be as positive as we can, but it is

the four games at home that are massive for us.

“We want to get to 40 points as quickly as we can and get

everyone settled down again.”

Although Stoke are on a poor run, having taken just five points

from the last 30 on offer, there are reasons for encouragement as

they go into the Everton game, which kicks off at 5.30pm.

With Robert Huth back available after completing a three-match

ban, Pulis looks set to have a full squad to select from, while

opposite number David Moyes has two influential players suspended

in Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar.

Another potential boost for the Potters is the knowledge they

have only lost once in their past seven meeting with the

Toffees.

But Pulis has no doubt sixth-placed Everton will provide a stern

test, even without Fellaini and Pienaar.

“The Everton game will be one of our toughest games, without a

question of a doubt,” Pulis said.

“Everybody will talk about Fellaini and Pienaar not playing, but

they have got some (other) outstanding players.

“They have got (Victor) Anichebe, (Nikica) Jelavic, (Kevin)

Mirallas, (Leon) Osman, (Leighton) Baines, (Sylvain) Distin – it

looks as if (Phil) Jagielka might have a chance of being fit as

well.

“They have a very, very good squad there.”

The much-maligned Nigeria international has won over many

doubters this season and his all-action performance in the stunning

defeat of Manchester City a fortnight ago won widespread

praise.

The 24-year-old has had his differences with Moyes, the club’s

hierarchy and fans in the past, while his career has also been

punctuated by injuries.

But Moyes has kept faith and feels his patience is being

rewarded with Anichebe, some seven years after his debut, starting

to command a place.

Moyes said: “He is someone I have always thought has all the

attributes, that if he could knuckle down and stick at it has

definitely got a lot going for him.

“He has done. He has kept at it, kept going and I thought he

played really well last time.

“His effort was noticeable. Victor, as much as anyone, helped us

get the result against Manchester City.

“He was very close to being the man of the match, if he was not

the man of the match.”

Moyes feels Anichebe, an Academy product who has lived on

Merseyside since infancy, has learned from his past difficulties

and now realises how much potential he has.

The Scot said: “Maybe age, a bit of maturity – sometimes it does

take players time for the penny to drop.

“He is a powerful lad and has an awful lot of attributes which

he hasn’t used at times.

“He lacks a little bit of self-confidence but the crowd can help

him and it certainly helped him with the ovation he got against

Manchester City.

“He is someone we have stuck with. There have been many times

when he has been questioned.”

Moyes wants more of the commitment and decisiveness the Toffees

displayed against City to finish the season strongly.

The City result restored confidence at Goodison Park after the

soul-destroying FA Cup quarter-final loss to Wigan and kept hopes

of European qualification alive.

Their next challenge, at home, comes from Stoke on Saturday

evening. The Potters have won just one of their last 11 league

games but Moyes, without a win against Stoke since October 2010,

takes nothing for granted against notoriously tough opposition.

He said: “It is the sort of game where you can get dragged into

something somewhere.

“We have got to make sure we get the ball down and play, make

passes and try to get through.

“Over the years we have done that against them, knocked at the

door and still not got there.

“You have to be clinical and one (goal) is never enough. You

have to make sure you get that other goal.

“We have had great form all year, so we have got to make sure we

stay up there and finish in as high a position as we possibly

can.”