Rafael Benitez plays down Chelsea's title hopes

Blues take on west London rivals QPR tonight

Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez is wary of talking up his side's title chances but will not rule out the prospect of making a sustained challenge.

While the Spaniard is still struggling to be accepted by the Stamford Bridge faithful because of his Liverpool connections, he claims the players are enjoying working for him.

And he has noticed a shift in belief which he thinks makes them a different prospect to the side he took over when Roberto Di Matteo was controversially sacked in November.

"The team has more confidence and belief that we can do things," he said.

"They had the belief but they believe more if they win as they have more confidence.

"The first games were quite difficult against Manchester City and Fulham because we didn't have time (to make changes).

"After, little by little, you can see they enjoy the movement, the positions, the things we are trying to do and they are playing better football. I think we can move forward with another good result and confidence will grow more."

Asked if he had an idea how close he would need to be to leaders Manchester United at a certain date to genuinely challenge for the title, Benitez added: "I don't like to think about this. I like to think about the next game and three points.

"It is important to give the players this mentality. My job is to think about the next three or four or five games and if I have to adjust something I will do it.

"But the players just have to think 'This is my game, I have to give 100 per cent to win this game'.

"Because we are playing so well they were thinking 'okay, we can play nice football' but against Norwich (a 1-0 Boxing Day win) it was tough but they put in a professional performance as a team. That is good.

"We watched some clips on TV and the players can see what they are doing and how they are improving.

"After Everton (whom they beat 2-1 on Sunday) we have a lot of situations we can analyse and see how we can improve, but also there were a lot of positives because we saw the character against a team that is in form at the moment."

Chelsea have already held "unproductive talks" with Newcastle striker Demba Ba's representatives but Benitez is keen to bring in more support for Fernando Torres.

"You can always improve things, especially when you have injuries, and we lose two players to the African Nations Cup," said the Chelsea boss.

"Obviously we need bodies but I am really pleased with the squad, they train well, the commitment is there and they are keen to learn.

"We are trying to manage the team so when I can change Fernando I will do it.

"We will try to manage him and hopefully we can do things properly.

"He wants the team winning games and he understands that is the way so he will accept this."

PA

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