Chelsea FC's congested fixture list would make many coaches baulk but as he prepares his side for the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg against FC Rubin Kazan, Rafael Benítez appears in his element.
Thursday sees the third of eight matches in 23 days for the Blues, who began the run well with Monday's 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final victory at home to English champions-elect Manchester United FC. "We are just concentrating on one game at a time," said Benítez. "I have to pick a team that can win a game, and just concentrate on this one – the players have to be ready. We are doing really well so far."
However, such a glut of fixtures has not left Benítez, whose team lie fourth in the Premier League, ill-prepared as he dissected his latest opposition in full respectful detail. "Rubin Kazan are a good team, well organised. They know what to do, as they showed [in previous rounds] against Atlético Madrid and Levante. I have warned any of my players maybe thinking it will be easy, 'no chance' – it will be tough."
The Spaniard is particularly wary of the Russian outfit's potency on the counterattack. To that end Chelsea may miss defenders Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill, both ruled out of the tie through injury, but Benítez is not seeking excuses. His success at Valencia in 2003/04, when the team lifted the UEFA Cup and Liga trophies, provides inspiration for this multi-tasking.
"When we won the UEFA Cup and the league with Valencia, we won both competitions. Why can you not? You can win both competitions. Why can you not try to win every game? You have to try to do that. In a top side it has to be like this."
Rubin lost 1-0 at Chelsea's London rivals Tottenham Hotspur FC in last season's UEFA Europa League, although Kurban Berdyev believes considerable strides have been made since that defeat 18 months ago. "I think we have got better," the coach said. "We have more experience now to play at this level."
Indeed, the Premier-Liga's fourth-ranked club are unbeaten in five matches and have ousted holders Club Atlético de Madrid and Levante UD in the knockout rounds so far, although Berdyev recognises that Chelsea represent a significant step up. "I have very high hopes for this game," he said. "Rubin don't play such big teams every day and we can't wait for the game to happen.
"I have been to Chelsea before as a guest of Mr Abramovich and I remember looking at the stadium hoping that one day I could bring my team here. This game will create history for Rubin – and we've got used to not being favourites."
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