Ahead of Chelsea’s FA Cup fifth round tie with Middlesbrough, Rafael Benitez has again had to diffuse yet more rumors of unrest surrounding the club.
Following Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester City at the weekend, media reports suggested that Benitez was involved in an angry confrontation with several members of his squad. The under-fire Spaniard has denied that there was a bust-up.
“It was a normal meeting between players and technical staff which happens after every game,” he said, according to Chelsea’s official Web site.
“You see it all over the world, you share opinions and have a meeting, especially after a defeat. You have to share your disappointment, it's normal.”
Chelsea have played more games than any other side in Europe this season and Benitez has admitted that it has had a negative impact on the team’s training sessions.
“A lot of minutes that we are together are taken up by playing games and travelling, and that is a problem when you have too many games,” he explained. “In a top side it is normal but it is especially in this case because we have more games than anyone.”
Despite the fixture congestion, Chelsea would surely relish another game in the FA Cup with an enticing quarterfinal meeting with Manchester United at Old Trafford the prize on the line at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday.
An FA Cup meeting between Chelsea and Middlesbrough inevitably brings back memories of the final between the sides in 1997 when Roberto di Matteo scored the fastest goal in FA Cup final history en route to the Blues’ triumph.
Middlesbrough’s focus right now is doubtless on trying to regain their Premier League status. Chances were looking good of that happening for much of the season, but Tony Mowbray’s side have lost seven of their last nine league games.
The Teesiders will be without Josh McEachran, who is on-loan from Chelsea, while Kieron Dyer and Sammy Ameobi are also ineligible. Mowbray will also be unable to call upon injury victims Lukas Jutkiewicz, Jonathan Woodgate, Stuart Parnaby, Justin Hoyte and Julio Arca.
For Chelsea, defenders Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta will be missing through illness and injury, respectively.
D: Bikey, Williams, McManus, Friend
M: Miller, Carayol, Leadbitter, Halliday
F: McDonald, Emnes
D: Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Bertrand
M: Ramires, Mikel
Moses, Oscar, Marin
Prediction: Given their busy schedule, Benitez is likely to make a few changes to his Chelsea side. But with Middlesbrough sure to be keen to focus on the league, Chelsea should get a fairly comfortable win.
Middlesbrough 1-3 Chelsea
Where to watch: The FA Cup fifth round tie will kick-off from the Riverside Stadium at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a delayed online stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.