Rafael Benitez tries to keep his focus while Chelsea players deal with jetlag
Chelsea manager focuses on Monterrey threat amid questions about Lampard and Walcott
Wednesday 12 December 2012
First the small matter of conquering the world, then worry about domestic matters. That appears to be the mantra of Rafael Benitez, an interim manager with an industrial-sized in-tray.
If the Spaniard is not fretting about his players' jetlag, he might be pondering Frank Lampard's future, concerning himself with a new ball that is too hard, trying to outwit a Mexican coach whom he holds in high regard, or rebuffing questions about bringing in Theo Walcott and letting go Daniel Sturridge.
Yet it has been Mexican champions Monterrey chiefly occupying his waking hours (and there are plenty of those). "We know the team, we have staff who have collected videos and I've watched games too," he said. "They can play the passing game, they like to play it on the floor and move it easily, but can also play directly. It'll be an interesting test for us."
His centre-half Gary Cahill agrees, and said: "They're a good footballing side. They also have the option to play long to the big striker and can play off the second balls. They've got some talented footballers."
Benitez's biggest fear is that his team, clear favourites today, could be caught napping in every sense. "My main focus and that of my players is to try and sleep more than four hours," he said. "It's quite difficult. We've tried to adapt to the time, the pitch, the ball. Everything. It's all a bit new, but we've done everything we have to do.
"Each person is different. You have to feel fine or not. If you sleep four hours, for us it is not the main thing, but for a player who has to compete, sleep is really important. To be here 11 days, settling down is a real advantage."
Yet the fact that the Mexicans have had more time to acclimatise is probably the only advantage they have over the champions of Europe. Benitez believes his team are equipped to reach Sunday's final against Corinthians, 1-0 winners over Al Ahly of Egypt in today's first semi-final. But he is aware of the pitfalls that lie in wait and recalled a shock result in the 2010 event in UAE that helped his Internazionale team win the title, as the Congolese side TP Mazembe knocked out Internacional in the semi-final to present the Italians with an easier task in the final.
"I was joking with [Chelsea's Brazilian playmaker] Oscar, who was at [Internacional] Porto Alegre. They should have won against Mazembe but they lost. So you never know."
Benitez would not be drawn on Oscar's hopes of starting today, despite his replacing the stricken Oriol Romeu in the win at Sunderland. But Lampard, who came back from injury as a late substitute at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, is unlikely to start. "I don't know yet. It's a tricky decision. I don't think he will be ready for 90 minutes," said Benitez.
Lampard's body language after training suggested he may be spending most of the 90 minutes on the bench, but his latest manager would not be drawn on his future. "My concern is now, I don't know the future," said Benitez. "I will try to bring the best from him for every game."
Whether Chelsea return as world champs or chumps, already there is talk of where to strengthen the squad next month. Benitez was asked if Sturridge was lined up to sign for his old club Liverpool. "I have no idea. I know there have been some contacts. The club are working and thinking about January. I will talk with them and give them my opinion."
He said of the long-term injury to Romeu that "maybe it can change something" but would not discuss any possible move for Arsenal's Walcott. "If I say I like the player, it will be 'he wants him'," Benitez said.
Chelsea's challenge: Who are Monterrey?
The Monterrey coach, Victor Manuel Vucetich, said yesterday that defeating the European Champions Chelsea would be the greatest achievement in Mexican club football.
Vucetich's team qualified for the tournament by winning the Concacaf Champions League. "We want to make history," Vucetich said. "I know our rivals very well but we believe in our own strengths."
Star player: Cesar Delgado
The 31-year-old Argentine striker will lead the line with Humberto Suazo out injured. He made 20 appearances for Argentina between 2003-2005. Delgado also scored twice in the 3-1 quarter-final victory over South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai last Sunday.
The coach: Victor Manuel Vucetich
In his 22-year coaching career, the 57-year-old has won the Mexican top-flight league title five times, with four different teams, including twice with Monterrey (2009 & 2010). He turned down the opportunity to coach the national team in 2010.
Kick-off Tomorrow, 10.30am, Yokohama.
TV BBC HD (highlights BBC 2, 1.30pm).
Odds Chelsea 4-9. Draw 3-1. Mont 6-1.
Cole is Blues' new English waiter
Whether they are fit to be crowned the world's best club is about to be put to the test, but Gary Cahill believes Chelsea can hold their own at another ball game.
The players took over a nearby bowling alley in the build-up to tomorrow's game against Monterrey, with Ashley Cole paying the price for an indifferent display.
"We went out and had a bit of a team bonding and went bowling to see the area and the people," said Cahill. "It wasn't about who won, it was about who lost in our group. Whoever lost had to get the dinner in, and it was Ashley Cole.
"There were a few strikes, the standard was all right. Actually, it was quite good," he added. "It was quite a small place, so we had most of the lanes. I think we took up the whole place anyway. Everyone played, the manager, staff, everyone."
And the forfeit? "It was to serve dinner at the hotel," revealed Cahill. "There was about six of us. Ashley was waiting on us. He's a better left-back than a waiter.
"That's been our only spell out, really. It was good to get out for an hour instead of going stir-crazy in the hotel."
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