Benitez hasn't ruled out title yet
Soccer:Chelsea today received mixed news on the injury front with John Terry’s unavailability for the Fifa Club World Cup tempered by the imminent return of Frank Lampard.
Terry has been advised against travelling to the tournament in Japan due to the possibility that his recovery from knee ligament damage may be hampered by inflammation during the 12-and-a-half hour flight.
Interim manager Rafael Benitez has refused to set a date for his comeback, but was able to confirm that Lampard will participate in tomorrow’s Barclays Premier League clash with Sunderland.
Lampard has been sidelined since October with a calf problem but has been passed fit, while Daniel Sturridge could feature in the Club World Cup but will not play at the Stadium of Light following his battle with a hamstring injury.
Chelsea depart for Japan tomorrow evening and while Benitez admitted Terry was disappointed to have missed out, he understands his rehabilitation requires patience.
“John was quite excited about the competition because it was something different and a great opportunity,” the Spaniard said. “But we had to be cautious because of his knee problem. He wanted to go and to help, but it’s better that he stays. We don’t know when he’ll play. With this type of problem you have to wait and see how he reacts.
“He’s training very hard, but knees are a special case because it’s not muscle there are lots of joints to fix. He knows we have to be patient.”
Chelsea may have spent vast sums strengthening their squad, but it is stalwarts Terry and Lampard who remain the leaders of a team that has entered freefall since defeating Tottenham 4-2 in late October.
On Wednesday night they became the first Champions League winners to see their title defence fail at the first hurdle, dropping into the far less prestigious Europa League instead.
Benitez admitted Lampard’s return is well-timed given his side is missing seasoned campaigners.
“At least one important player is back because we need character, experience and numbers. Frank is a very experienced player so this is quite positive,” he said. “At the moment we have a good team but we need players with more experience. He can have an impact. He scores goals and understands the game. I’m disappointed for the other two, but at least with Frank we have one more body.”
A further absentee against Sunderland is John Obi Mikel, who yesterday received a three-match ban for confronting referee Mark Clattenburg after the stormy Premier League clash with Manchester United in October.
Prospect, the referees’ trade union, criticised the “leniency” of the suspension, but Benitez wanted to draw a line under the issue.
“John accepted the charge and we have to move forward. He’s been training as normal. He was talking to the people in charge and everything is clear,” he said.
Chelsea sit third in the Premier League, 10 points behind leaders Manchester United and seven adrift of second-placed Manchester City, but Benitez still sees a glimmer of hope in their title prospects.
“My thoughts are clear — we have to win against Sunderland and we can be closer to at least one of them,” he said. “If we can be closer sooner rather than later, much better. Obviously we’ll have our chances if we start winning games.”
Thrashing Nordsjaelland 6-1 on Wednesday gave Benitez his first victory in four matches as Chelsea’s interim manager
“The last game was really good. We can talk about the level of the other team, but it was the Champions League,” he said. “The intensity was fantastic and I was really pleased with the performance of the players. At 75 minutes we were still pushing and pushing. It was the same at 86 minutes, so I think they showed the character they have.
“Fernando Torres was working very hard and the team was better attacking. He scored two more goals and hopefully there will be more.”