Rafael Benitez has told the Chelsea board that the club is relying on too small a squad of players, with the physical demands of the season taking its toll – and he has already been asked which potential signings he would like to pursue in January.
The club's new interim first-team manager met technical director Michael Emenalo and other members of the club's hierarchy on Thursday to give his assessment on the squad he inherited from Roberto Di Matteo 10 days ago. Benitez, whose side face West Ham at Upton Park in the lunchtime kick-off today, said that the club's resources were too stretched, with too few players being asked to play too many games. The club have used just 20 outfield players in their 22 games this season, and that figure includes Raul Meireles, who has since been sold to Fenerbahce.
"You analyse the players who have played every game, there aren't many players here," Benitez said. "They'd been playing fewer players. I'm not here to criticise, but that's the reality. They'd played so many games, two a week and massive games in the Champions League, the players were getting tired. You can't give them a rest, either, because there's no time."
From Benitez's first-team squad, eight key players have featured in 10 or more of the 13 league games this season, prompting him to make the decision to rest Juan Mata against Fulham – although the player was eventually used as a second-half substitute. Benitez said he may have to rest players today, although he said he could not afford to rest Fernando Torres because there was no alternative.
Benitez said he had "explained what I'd seen" to the board yesterday and laid out his strategy for the coming month, in which Chelsea have potentially 10 games, including the trip to Japan. "They were asking me my opinion on what we need [in the January transfer window], and I said it was too early. I was pleased they were asking, but I need a couple of games [to make a decision on signings]."
The club are already planning to buy a striker, with the key decision whether they go all out for Atletico Madrid's Falcao, who has a €60m (£48.5m) buy- out clause, or take a cheaper option. Benitez said that the club were reluctant at the moment to call Romelu Lukaku back from his loan at West Bromwich Albion because of its benefit to his development.
Asked whether Torres, who has started every game he has been eligible for save Di Matteo's last match in charge, against Juventus, could be rested, Benitez said "not at the moment".
"[Daniel] Sturridge is injured. [Victor] Moses is the only option we'd have, but he's a different kind of player. Six training sessions, two games [so far and] I can't adjust too many things. I'm trying to keep the same team more or less and adjust little things. If we have to manage players like Fernando, we'll do it. But it'll be the same as Mata and the others. If I have another player who can play in his position, I'll do it."
Benitez also disclosed that when he was Liverpool manager the club had the option to buy Andy Carroll, whom they subsequently signed for £35m, and who is now on loan at West Ham. At the time, Newcastle decided against selling him. "He played in the FA Youth Cup at Anfield and we were watching him, a young player with power. It was an option, he was cheaper. £35m? Take the 'three' off. Quite cheap."
Benitez said that despite the hostility from supporters he was working "from 8am to 8pm" to try to turn the club's fortunes around. "The other day [against Fulham] it was a little bit better in terms of the fans being more with the team," he said. "When I was at Extremadura, Tenerife, Valencia and Liverpool I replaced a manager who was very successful and in the end they loved me."
He said that John Terry had made himself available for selection but that he still had reservations about the captain's fitness and wanted to hold him back. Terry and Frank Lampard may yet travel to Japan next month for the Fifa Club World Cup not having played since sustaining their injuries.
The Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, did not address supporters at the club's annual lunch at Stamford Bridge yesterday to raise money for the Chelsea Foundation and the Past Players' Trust. The club's hierarchy are yet to give their take on Di Matteo's sacking and Benitez's appointment.
Benitez: My designer club suit is too small!
Rafael Benitez admitted he did not yet have one of the club-issue Dolce & Gabbana suits because he found the tailoring too snug for his figure.
The Chelsea manager was responding to suggestions that fans were unhappy he had worn what looked like a red tie – it was orange – for the game against Fulham on Wednesday.
Benitez said: "I paid attention to these little things. My first tie [in his press conference last week] was blue. Still I have some problems with the official suit. The Italian style is different. It's really nice, but it's for young people, not old people. Everyone is different. The Italian style is more for players."
"They [the tailors] need some time. Now, because of the crisis, no one has many suits in stock. They have to make the right one. The colours are the colours."