Benitez cools Chelsea title talk
Rafael Benitez has insisted that Chelsea are not focused on a title challenge despite closing on the Manchester clubs after a fourth straight victory.
Benitez's side's 2-1 win at Everton on Sunday moved them to within four points of second-placed Manchester City with a game in hand. However, they remain 11 points adrift of leaders Manchester United and despite the clear progress being made by the Stamford Bridge club, Benitez maintains it is too soon to consider Chelsea potential challengers.
"We have a game in hand but we still have to win it," the Spaniard said. "Our idea is to approach the competition thinking about one game at a time. We are not watching the table too much. We are just thinking about the next game and the next three points we will be trying to win. We will see where we are after some more games."
Benitez was an unpopular appointment with the club's fans following the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo, who guided Chelsea to the UEFA Champions League trophy last season. However, the interim manager feels that Chelsea's unsuccessful trip to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan has helped his players to adopt his ideas.
The Blues were beaten in the final by Brazilian outfit Corinthians but former Liverpool manager Benitez thinks that the heavy training schedule has been key to improving performances. That defeat was the only match that Chelsea have not won in their last seven games in all competitions.
Benitez, who refused to comment on reports of a move for Newcastle United striker Demba Ba, added: "There is a process of understanding each other and the players knowing what we want. The trip to Japan was important for us because we were together for a long time, training. We had at least two or three sessions where we could work on new things and you can see it working out.
"We are still making some mistakes that we have to manage, but the team is much better. What impresses me is the attitude of the players. They are keen to learn and train. My self and the staff are really pleased with the way they work and train and behave each day, and that is important for the future."
Everton pulled in front with just a minute gone at Goodison Park when Steven Pienaar drove in after Victor Anichebe's header came back off the post. However, Frank Lampard pulled one back with a header just prior to half-time before adding a decisive second with a close-range finish midway through the second half.
Benitez praised Lampard's contribution, although the veteran midfielder's future remains far from clear as his contract is due to expire at the end of the season. "We try to get the best from him and at the end of the season, who knows?" Benitez said. "I just want him fit, happy and scoring goals. He is under contract and doing well and that is the most important thing."
Benitez says captain John Terry has a chance of returning from a knee problem at Queens Park Rangers on Wednesday, but was unclear about the severity of the ankle problem that forced goalkeeper Petr Cech off at half-time at Everton. It was only Everton's third Premier League defeat of the season and manager David Moyes believes the club have made real progress during 2012.
"I'm gutted we didn't beat Chelsea because I thought our performance was enough to do that," he said. "But 2012 has been a good year for us and there's nothing we can look back on, the second half of last season and the first half of this season, and say we've done too much wrong.
"We're not disappointed with how we played. We played really well and we've run the European champions really close, but we didn't quite have enough in the end."