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Football | Barclays Premier League

Rafa looks to rally deflated Chelsea

Rafael Benitez will attempt to rally his Chelsea side in the wake of their FA Cup semifinal defeat to Manchester City as they prepare for a crucial Premier League visit to Fulham on Wednesday.

The Wembley loss to Roberto Mancini's side means the Blues have missed out on seven of the eight trophies available to them this season and places more pressure on their efforts to qualify for the Champions League.

Benitez's team make the short trip across west London to Craven Cottage in fourth place, but a failure to make the most of their game in hand will pave the way for Tottenham and Everton to step up their challenge.

The game marks the latest fixture in a gruelling schedule for Chelsea and interim manager Benitez must quickly lift his side's spirits after the narrow 2-1 defeat to City.

Blues defender Cesar Azpilicueta admits Chelsea's habit of losing important games this season is becoming alarming.

The club have exited both domestic cup competitions at the semifinal stage and failed at the final hurdle in their efforts to win the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup.

And Azpilicueta said: "It's a little bit worrying. It's not normal for Chelsea but it's the reality.

"At the start against City we didn't play our game. We were defending, we didn't create chances. We shot once in the first half. It's true we need to play different.

"We wanted to win all the trophies at the start of the season. Now the only trophy that we can win is the Europa League."

The challenge facing Benitez is to manage a squad that has now played 59 games with the campaign not yet over.

John Terry and Frank Lampard were left on the bench against City and could be recalled against Fulham, while Fernando Torres could start after an impressive substitute appearance.

"Fatigue is the reality. We've played 15 games more than Man City and we played three days ago in Moscow. But we're professionals," Azpilicueta said.

"It's normal that we feel a little bit more tired than the other team. This season we've played a lot of games.

"We need to be focused and not think about feeling tired because it doesn't matter. We need to win and it doesn't matter the way we do it."

The stakes in the league are getting higher with every cup exit, but Chelsea centre back David Luiz said: "If we win the Europa League and play Champions League next season, of course the season is a success.

"Some big teams in Europe don't win titles this year so, of course, it's a success."

Fulham head into the clash sat comfortably in 10th place, having reached the important 40-point mark with the weekend 1-1 draw at Aston Villa.

The main aim for Martin Jol's team is to secure a top half finish.

And Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer said: "We've got one more game than most teams as we're playing Chelsea on Wednesday.

"So we've got six games remaining and the target will be to try and get to that point where we are mathematically safe and then we'll try and finish as high as possible in the table.

"There are points available and it's good for momentum for next season if we can prove to people that Fulham deserve to be in the top half of the table."


Rafa: My Story
Revelatory memoir from the greatest sportsman in the world today.


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