Selection headache for Benitez

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.”