Benitez wants to see some hunger
Rafael Benitez has admitted winning the European Cup can affect players’ motivation to retain the trophy but has urged his Chelsea side to demonstrate the same hunger that drove them to eye-catching success in Munich last May in the hope the holders’ interest in this season’s competition can be prolonged.
The Blues teeter on the brink of becoming the first defending champions to fail to emerge from the group stage, and victory against Group E’s whipping boys Nordsjaelland tonight will not be sufficient to reach the knockout round if Juventus avoid defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk.
Benitez has inherited a desperate position in the section with Chelsea’s fate out of their hands but he is confident Shakhtar will pose the Italians an awkward test.
The Spaniard will concentrate on earning his first victory since replacing Robert Di Matteo but, having taken over at Internazionale the season after Jose Mourinho had won this competition, he is not entirely surprised by the holders’ predicament. “Chelsea were a top side who had already won many trophies but were missing one,” said Benitez, whose Inter team finished second in their group, behind Tottenham Hotspur, two years ago.
“But then they won the Champions League, a massive achievement. It’s like: ‘Okay, we have done the most difficult thing.’ And it changes the perception. It is normal. It changes the approach for the next competition. But if you want to stay at the maximum level for a while, you have to be competitive. That is the difficult thing, to manage the hunger of the players and the hunger of the staff.
“It’s part of our job to push them and try and keep the competition. The only thing we can try and do is win our game. I’m still confident Shakhtar can beat Juventus.”
Asked if Chelsea – who yesterday completed the signing of the Brazilian full-back Wallace from Fluminense, although he won’t join the club until next summer – lacked strength of character, Benitez said: “Not really, but the problem we have is some of the key players who have that character are still missing. They are injured. So the younger players who come in are having to adapt and learn about the Premier League without them. We have good, young players out there but having Lampard and Terry with them would help. You need that character to be competitive.”
Group E Permutations
Chelsea need a win over Nordsjaelland and have to hope Juventus lose against Shakhtar Donetsk if they are to progress to the Champions League knockout stages. Chelsea’s head-to-head record is inferior to both teams above them. If they fail to win, the Blues will drop into the Europa League.