Benitez hopes Lampard can fire Chelsea
LONDON (AFP) – Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez hopes in-form Frank Lampard can cap a week to remember by easing the pressure on the spluttering Blues when Wigan visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Benitez’s side are without a win in four games and desperately need three points to retain their grip on third place and boost their fragile confidence.
The Spaniard has been left in no doubt about the importance of securing a top four finish and with it a place in next season’s Champions League.
But Chelsea’s defeat at Newcastle last weekend allowed fourth-placed Tottenham to move within one point of the Blues with fifth placed Everton another three points adrift.
The recent run has been bruising for both Benitez and his players, who have exited the League Cup, been held in the FA Cup by League One minnows Brentford, and squandered winning positions in the league meetings with Newcastle and Reading.
Positives have been thin on the ground and anything less than a victory against a struggling Wigan side will inevitably spark more speculation about Benitez’s chances of seeing out the season.
In the circumstances, Benitez could do with another influential display from Lampard, who came off the bench to score the winner in England’s midweek friendly victory over Brazil at Wembley.
Lampard’s impressive England display was followed by reports suggesting the Chelsea hierarchy is reconsidering its intention not to offer the midfielder a new contract next summer.
The 34-year-old has been in excellent form of late and Benitez is certain the former West Ham star can continue to play at the highest level for some time.
“He’s scoring goals for us already and I think he’s doing well,” Benitez told Chelsea TV.
“Ninety-four caps is a fantastic achievement. If he can get 100 it will be really positive and it will mean he will be fit, he will be playing and he will be doing well.”
Blues striker Demba Ba is available despite breaking his nose last week but doubts remain about the fitness of keeper Petr Cech who missed the Czech Republic’s midweek friendly against Turkey with a finger problem.
John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses will again be missing after guiding Nigeria to the final of the African Cup of Nations.
But Wigan manager Roberto Martinez can afford to have little sympathy for fellow Spaniard Benitez.
The Latics have picked up just one win in their last 12 league matches and are in the relegation zone.
Wigan were unlucky to lose 2-1 at the London club at the end of last season but Martinez believes his team’s performance in that defeat helped inspire them to a run of seven wins in nine matches that was enough to keep them in the top-flight.
“There’s never a good time to play a top club,” Martinez said. “They’ve been very unfortunate, haven’t deserved their results and they’ve been hurt over a period of 10 games where they haven’t deserved their scorelines.
“We’re looking at ourselves and we need to build on the two points we got against Stoke and Southampton and we do know that last season it was a very tough result to take but the performance was impressive.
“It really was a turning point in our season and it gave us the incredible confidence to go on and get seven wins in the last nine games.”