Chelsea aim to bounce back
Rafael Benitez admits Chelsea's FA Cup third round tie at Southampton has taken on added significance in the wake of their shock Premier League defeat to QPR.
Benitez conceded in the wake of Wednesday's 1-0 home loss to the division's bottom club that, with the Blues now lying 14 points behind Manchester United, they require a miraculous run to win the Premier League.
Chelsea's European ambitions now lie in the Europa League following their failure to get through the Champions League group stage and, while they will face Swansea in the League Cup semifinals next week, Benitez knows the Blues can ill afford another upset at St Mary's this weekend.
The west London club's record in the FA Cup is impressive, with three final victories in the last four years including last season's success over Liverpool.
After a troubled season, more silverware at Wembley in May would be welcome and would at least partly vindicate Benitez's claims he could revive the side after being installed as interim manager in place of Roberto Di Matteo.
The first barrier they face is an improving Southampton side who now lie outside the Premier League relegation zone on goal difference after a difficult start to the season.
Chelsea should be strengthened by the return to the starting line-up of Juan Mata, Ramires, Ashley Cole and Eden Hazard, controversially left on the bench against QPR.
Benitez insisted he had no regrets about that decision, claiming his players are suffering after a punishing December schedule that included a trip to Japan for the Club World Cup.
"It's hard, especially for us when we were playing so many games with some players," said Benitez.
"We have to manage it and sometimes if you manage it wrong you can say it is a mistake. But you have to try to manage it."
Fernando Torres is one of the players Benitez believes is feeling the strain, but with Daniel Sturridge having left for Liverpool and Demba Ba unlikely to have completed the formalities of his £7 million move from Newcastle, the striker is again likely to lead the line.
"Fernando is one of the players (who is tired)," Benitez said. "You can see two or three who have been playing too many games in the last month."
Petr Cech and John Terry will both be missing from the trip to the south coast where Southampton midfielder Jack Cork will face his former club.
Cork came through the ranks at Stamford Bridge but never made a competitive first team appearance and admits he was thrilled by the draw.
"I'm just looking forward to playing against them really as I never got the opportunity to play with them whilst I was there," he said.
"It's a shame it's not at Stamford Bridge, but certainly over the last four or five years I've looked at the draw and said please let's get Chelsea."
However, Cork knows his former club will still be smarting from the defeat to QPR and fears a backlash.
"I think they'll be out to prove a point," he said. "Some people are convinced they played a weakened side against QPR, but whichever side they put out it's never going to be a weak team.
"Hopefully we could take advantage if they're on the start of a bad run.
"We could look at it either way, but there's not much pressure on us really.
"A Cup run would be great and it could help our league form, but the league is our main priority at the minute, and that will be our main focus."