London – Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez has warned Manchester City that his players have set their sights on climbing above the champions in the Premier League table.
Benitez's team will move within one point of second-placed City if they beat Roberto Mancini's men at Eastlands on Sunday and the Spaniard believes that could prove the springboard to a strong finish from the west Londoners.
Neither side goes into this weekend's clash in the most positive mood after traumatic seasons but Benitez sees signs Chelsea can take advantage of City's recent stumbles.
Mancini's club have gone three league games without a win, leaving them 12 points behind leaders Manchester United, and Benitez said: “We have a lot of respect because City is a great team but we have to go there with confidence.
“If we are close I think that we can fight for being in the top two. The priority is to win: if we win this game we will be closer but if we cannot we have to keep fighting.
“What I can see now is a team with confidence, we are confident we can beat City or anyone if we do things in the right way. We are creating chances in every game so I'm confident we can do it.”
With Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham also having designs on qualifying for the Champions League next season, the race for the top four is likely to be a long one and Benitez admits he envisages the battle going right down to the wire.
“The race for the top four will go on until the end of the season,” he said.
“Our last game is against Everton so I'm sure that, until the end of the season, we will be winning games or losing games or whatever but it will be very tight, very close.
“I think that one game can make a big difference so until the end it will be difficult for everyone.”
Chelsea travel to City on the back of a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Sparta Prague in the Europa League on Thursday that took them into the last 16 of the competition.
With City eliminated from the group stages of the Champions League, they have had more time to rest this week than their opponents.
But Benitez refuses to dwell on the potential boost that gives City and he insists that by leaving out Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole against Sparta Prague, his squad remains fresh.
“We have played around nine games a month, so we have played more games than anyone in Europe,” Benitez said.
“But we knew that before the game (against Prague) so I rested some players so hopefully the players we use will be fine and we can keep the energy.
“When you play two games a week in two different competitions and you rest a few players and you win they will say 'fantastic rotation' but if you lose they say 'why are you resting these players?'
“We will change some of them against City, that is very clear because we have to do it and that is the way if you are a top side, because the club is successful that is part of the price that you have to pay and we are really pleased to be paying this price.” – Sapa-AFP