Benitez: Chelsea must learn
Chelsea relinquished their hold on the FA Cup with a 2-1 semi-final loss to City on Sunday, but came close to forcing extra-time with a revival in the final 25 minutes.
The Blues have little time to dwell on the defeat ahead of Wednesday’s west London derby at Craven Cottage, where victory and a consolidation of a top-four place and Champions League football next term is the main agenda.
"It was a surprise because I thought we were ready physically and mentally," Benitez said of the FA Cup defeat. We had to adapt things at half-time. We conceded an early goal (in the second half), but after you could see the reaction of the team. That means we were ready, but you have to start from the beginning, not just the second half."
The Fulham fixture is Chelsea’s 60th of a congested season, but Benitez believes the second-half revival proved fatigue is not an issue as he continues to manage his squad.
Captain John Terry and midfielder Frank Lampard were unused substitutes at Wembley, but are expected to return as Benitez rotates his options on Wednesday.
"If you analyse our reaction in the second half, we showed quality, character and energy," Benitez said.
"To manage the squad is part of our job and still we have some legs and some determination to win games. We have had a lot of games and we still have nine or 10 games to play. All the squad, all the players will be important. "They (Terry and Lampard) have been important and it has to be the same until the end. A lot of players have done a great job and they have to do a great job until the end, all of them."
Fernando Torres made an impact as a substitute against City and is also anticipated to start, which could mean a return to the bench for Sunday’s trip to his former club Liverpool.
Torres has scored four times in three Europa League matches since suffering a broken nose against Steaua Bucharest, an injury which has seen him don a protective face mask.
The Spaniard is still awaiting a first Premier League goal since December, though, as he is regularly switched with Demba Ba.
Torres may continue in the mask until the end of the season.
Benitez said: "He’s training well. He has confidence now and if he needs to keep the mask on, he will. He has to be comfortable. If he’s okay with the mask and has to wear it, he will go maybe until the end of the season. I’m not sure, I don’t know. It depends on him and he’s comfortable now playing with the mask."
Benitez was celebrating his 53rd birthday on Tuesday, with one hope.
"My wish is to win every game until the end of the season," he said.
Should the Blues achieve that, they will qualify for the Champions League and win the Europa League.
The defeat to City may have sharpened focus, with two targets, rather than three, with the consequences of missing out on the Champions League next term unthinkable.
And victory on Wednesday would take Chelsea three points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham, whom they play in the penultimate week of the season, on May 8.
"We wanted to go to the final, like in the Europa League, but at the same time you have to keep an eye on the Premier League," Benitez said.
"Every game is important until the end of the season. Obviously this one, if we win we will be in the top three again. We know that we have to concentrate, get three points and be ready for the next challenge on Sunday (at Liverpool)."
City can do Chelsea a favour this weekend, when they play Spurs, with Sergio Aguero available despite his two-footed stomp on David Luiz.
Benitez would not be drawn into commenting on whether or not the Argentinian should have been banned.
"It’s the FA who has to decide," he said. "We cannot have any influence, so we have to move on."
Chelsea have one point from the last four away matches in the Premier League – at Reading in January.
Benitez hopes to end that run and continue a record of one defeat in 23 in the Premier League against the Cottagers.
"We have to improve our form away," Benitez said. "A derby’s a derby, everything can happen. Hopefully we can do well and we can keep the history with us."