LEEDS, United Kingdom, December 19 – Rafael Benitez has called on his Chelsea stars to erase the bitter memory of their Club World Cup final defeat by moving closer to their first silverware of the season with victory over Leeds in the League Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Benitez’s team returned from Japan just over 48 hours before their trip to Elland Road having lost to Brazilian side Corinthians in the Club World Cup final on Sunday.
Chelsea have already been eliminated from the Champions League and were beaten in the Community Shield by Manchester City in August when Roberto di Matteo was manager.
And for Chelsea interim manager Benitez, whose side are currently 13 points behind leaders Manchester United in the Premier League, the League Cup appears to be their safest bet for silverware, with Swansea, Aston Villa and League Two outfit Bradford, the conquerors of Arsenal, already in the semi-final draw.
“I said before we have five trophies to challenge for, now we have four,” Benitez said.
“We go back, play Leeds in the League Cup and then Aston Villa at the weekend, so we need to be strong mentally. We have to be ready for the next challenge.”
Chelsea’s Spanish midfielder Juan Mata is hopeful his team can put a smile back on the supporters’ faces after a traumatic few months, starting with a win over old rivals Leeds.
“I hope we can enjoy good moments and lift more trophies for the club and for you very soon,” he said.
“We are still playing to win four trophies and we will give everything we have to success in each of them.”
Benitez will make changes for the Leeds game as John Obi Mikel, Ramires and Gary Cahill are suspended, the latter because of his red card in the Corinthians match.
That could open the door for fringe men Paulo Ferreira, Ryan Bertand, Marko Marin and Daniel Sturridge.
Midfielder Lucas Piazon started in both previous rounds, against Wolves and Manchester United, but may have talked himself out of this game by questioning his team-mates’ desire on Sunday.
The Brazilian teenager, who was an unused substitute that day, was quoted as saying: “We lacked character and a love for the shirt. Nobody wanted the ball. At least Oscar tried.
“The team lacked willing. You don’t go into a final without the desire to play the ball, that’s unacceptable.”
There will be an extra edge to the touchline duel as well as the on-pitch battles because Benitez has history with Leeds manager Neil Warnock.
Warnock has stirred-up the ill-feeling between the pair again this week, claiming he has been threatened with legal action by the Spaniard as their five-year feud threatens to turn nasty.
Former Sheffield United manager Warnock blames Benitez for helping seal his old side’s relegation from the Premier League in May, 2007.
Warnock insists he can’t forgive the way his rival’s under-strength Liverpool side fell to a shock late-season defeat at Fulham to save the Craven Cottage club, and play a major role in condemning the South Yorkshire team to the drop.
The pair have been in contact since, but, according to Warnock, only in the form of a warning shot from the Spaniard’s lawyers to stop discussing the matter.
“Last time I heard from Rafa, it was an email threatening to sue me if I mentioned it again,” Warnock said.
“It had his name on. It was his solicitor who was threatening legal action and I’ve still got it in a scrapbook at home.
“I don’t want to give you any more ammunition than you’ve already got. It’s one of those things that disappoints you in life and you have to get on with it.
“I’ve made my feelings clear on the matter over the last few years and nothing will change that.
“Will I offer to shake his hand? I’ve no idea, I haven’t thought about it yet.”