Chelsea back in league action
The depth of Chelsea's energy reserves will be tested against Aston Villa on Sunday with the players' fifth game in barely two weeks.
The European champions defied jet lag following their trip to Japan for two Club World Cup fixtures to produce a classy 5-1 win over Leeds in the League Cup on Wednesday.
"We were tired and that is why it was a little scary for us at the beginning," Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic said. "We didn't know how we were going to feel at the start of the game, but now we have to look forward.
"We have to recover well because we still feel the strain from Japan and we will probably still be adapting a week after coming back."
But before the Far East trip, Chelsea won their first league match under Rafa Benitez against Sunderland to keep the team third.
"It is only winning game-by-game that we can get back our mentality and be strong like we were before," Ivanovic said. "For us it's important to get results when we're not playing well, to win ugly. This is very important for the confidence and for the players to believe."
Especially since Villa responded to their recent struggles by winning 3-1 at Liverpool last weekend to move three points clear of the relegation zone.
"We have three days to prepare for a very important game against Aston Villa at home, which will also be a very difficult moment and hard game for us," Ivanovic said.
Chelsea are seven points behind Manchester City and 13 behind leaders Manchester United, albeit with a game in hand over them.
United have won their last five league matches as they prepare to take on Swansea on Sunday.
"We're in a fantastic position and it's exactly where you want to be at this stage," defender Phil Jones said. "But last season was my first at United and I experienced something I've never experienced before. You learn that it's never, ever over."
Not when City are hot on the heels of United, with a six-point gap that can evaporate during the packed fixture program between Christmas and New Year.
City host on Saturday a Reading side that concededa 5-2 loss to Arsenal on Monday, a sixth straight loss that saw the promoted side slump to the bottom of the standings.
Queens Park Rangers, who are at Newcastle on Saturday, are a point ahead of Reading after producing their first win of the season against Fulham last weekend.
Wigan, the other team in the drop zone, on Saturday host a resurgent Arsenal side that has climbed to fifth.
Arsenal received a boost on Thursday when British players Jack Wilshere, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain signed new deals.
"The youth policy has improved in England and therefore we produce more good players in England," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "We try to take advantage of it."
In the tight tussle for the four Champions League spots, fifth-place Arsenal are two points behind Chelsea and Tottenham but ahead of Everton and West Bromwich Albion on goal difference.
On Saturday, Tottenham host Stoke, Everton are at West Ham and West Brom face Norwich, while in the day's other games Southampton take on Sunderland and Liverpool play Fulham.