Rafael Benitez relishing hectic Chelsea schedule and says John Terry fit again after international break

Blues face five games in 13 days

Rafael Benitez would much rather deal with the challenge of five games in a 13-day period that could define Chelsea's season than be at home watching other teams chasing trophies on television.

Chelsea launch a hectic fortnight when they tackle Southampton in the Barclays Premier League on Saturday before hosting Manchester United in an FA Cup quarter-final replay at lunchtime on Monday.

Benitez will then switch his attention to the first leg of Chelsea's Europa League quarter-final against Rubin Kazan, with the second leg to follow in Russia on April 11 after a league clash with Sunderland.

It is a gruelling schedule and Benitez admitted it will be impossible to field a full-strength side in every game because players cannot perform at their peak twice inside 48 hours.

But Chelsea's interim manager insisted it is better to face a packed calendar than already be knocked out of the competitions.

"It is better to have this problem than be at home watching it on the telly," Benitez said.

"It is better to have this schedule because it means you are still competing.

"With a top side, the last month in the season is when you fight for trophies. We are still there and it is a positive.

"At this stage of the competition you have to win and then you can win trophies. It has to be now, in this period."

John Terry was one of only five Chelsea players who trained at the club during the international break, following his retirement from England duty.

Benitez confirmed the break had been beneficial for Terry, breaking the "vicious circle" the Chelsea captain had found himself in after injuring his right knee in February.

Terry has been unable to play consistently for Chelsea but Benitez believes he made a step forward over the last week.

"He was training with us this week and he was doing well. He is training every day and improving his fitness," Benitez said.

"It is just a question of how many games can you play? We will have four games in nine days. It is the same for everyone.

"You can't play all these games and be 100 per cent - not just him, everyone.

"We have to ensure we have a competitive team against Southampton and a competitive team against United. We have to manage the squad carefully.

"The most difficult one will be these two games (coming up) because they are so close."

Benitez is not concerned that his players may consider the FA Cup tie with Manchester United to be the priority.

"They want to finish in the top four and guarantee Champions League football for next season so hopefully that will be the motivation for them," he said.

Benitez has been impressed with Southampton this season, both under Nigel Adkins, whose team secured a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in his final game as manager, and now under Mauricio Pochettino.

"He is doing well. It is not an easy job for a new manager," Benitez said.

"They were doing well with Adkins. I had a very good opinion of them before and I have a good opinion now."

Southampton remain in danger of relegation but Benitez said: "My feeling is they have a good team, they have a good understanding of the game and some good players so they have a chance (of staying up)."

PA

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