Wed, Dec 26, 2012 - Page 19 News List

Benitez confident Chelsea can mount title challenge

AFP, NORWICH, England

Chelsea’s interim manager Rafael Benitez looks on during Chelsea’s Premier League match against Aston Villa in London on Monday.

Photo: AFP

Rafael Benitez believes Chelsea are showing signs they are capable of mounting a title challenge as the Blues prepare to face Norwich City at Carrow Road today.

Benitez’s side gave their best performance of the season on Sunday to destroy Aston Villa 8-0 at Stamford Bridge and maintain the momentum from their midweek 5-1 victory against Leeds in the League Cup quarter-finals.

Chelsea fell just one goal short of matching the Premier League’s record margin of victory in an impressive display that saw seven different players find the net against a team who had been unbeaten in six matches.

The goal spree against Villa ensured the west Londoners moved back into third place, 11 points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand.

Now interim manager Benitez expects Chelsea to maintain the form that has seen them score 13 goals in just two outings since losing the Club World Cup final to Brazilian side Corinthians in Japan.

“The main thing is to win our games; you can do it if you see the team improving. With this kind of performance you can normally win games,” he said. “You could see the mentality of the players, even at 6-0 we were pushing and trying to score more. The team are attacking as a whole and not just depending on one or two players, which is good news. Hopefully we can keep this momentum. We have to sustain this run, keep winning some games and then it will be easier for me to send a message out that we can compete.”

Brazilian defender David Luiz is likely to continue in midfield against Norwich as Chelsea bid to make it three successive league victories.

John Terry is still absent for Chelsea so Branislav Ivanovic should partner Gary Cahill at the back once again.

Frank Lampard celebrated his 500th Premier League start with Chelsea’s fourth goal against Villa, although doubts remain over the England midfielder’s future at Stamford Bridge.

Lammpard’s contract expires at the end of the season, but despite rumors linking him with moves to QPR and French Ligue 2 side Monaco in January, Benitez refused to give anything away.

“He’s an important player for us; he’s playing well, training well and his commitment’s there,” Benitez said. “I’m really pleased for him scoring another goal. We have a long season to play and he’s doing well.”

Norwich surrendered their 10-match unbeaten run against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, but have won their last five Premier League matches at home.

Canaries manager Chris Hughton hopes to have Grant Holt available again after he missed the trip to the Hawthorns, but he will not gamble on the striker’s fitness going into the hectic Christmas program.

“We hope that Grant will be back with us for the Chelsea game, but we’ll see. He was touch and go for West Brom, but we need to make sure it’s right,” Hughton said. “It’s not about one or two games, it’s about a season, and us trying to finish as strong as possible. For that you want all your best players available. That’s what the squad is about though and that’s why you have the competition that you have.”

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