Rafael Benítez has admitted winning the European Cup can affect players' motivation to retain the trophy but has urged his Chelsea side to demonstrate the same hunger that drove them to eye-catching success in Munich last May in the hope the holders' interest in this season's competition can be prolonged.
The Blues teeter on the brink of becoming the first defending champions to fail to emerge from the group stage, and victory against Group E's whipping boys Nordsjaelland on Wednesday night will not be sufficient to reach the knockout round if Juventus avoid defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk. Benítez, a Champions League winner with Liverpool seven years ago, has inherited a desperate position in the section with Chelsea's fate out of their hands but he is confident Shakhtar will pose the Italians an awkward test in Ukraine.
The Spaniard will concentrate on earning his first victory since replacing Robert Di Matteo but, having taken over at Internazionale the season after José Mourinho had won this competition, he is not entirely surprised by the holders' current predicament. "Chelsea were a top side who had already won many trophies but were missing one," said Benítez, whose Inter team finished second in their group, behind Tottenham Hotspur, two years ago. "But then they won the Champions League, a massive achievement. It's like: 'OK, we have done the most difficult thing.' And it changes a little bit the perception. It is normal.
"It changes the approach for the next competition. But if you want to stay at the maximum level for a while, you have to be competitive. That is the difficult thing, to manage the hunger of the players and the hunger of the staff. It's part of our job to push them and try and keep the competition. The only thing we can try and do is win our game. I'm still confident Shakhtar can beat Juventus. They have good players, players who want to be seen around the world, and it's important for them. A challenge. Everyone will be watching their game carefully so they know they have to perform."
Benítez's side are in need of a fillip having endured a seven-match winless run in the Premier League, with the 3-0 thrashing in Turin a fortnight ago having prompted the dismissal of Di Matteo. The interim first-team manager has yet to win after three matches, and continues to be deprived of his captain and deputy, John Terry and Frank Lampard, due to injury. The experienced pair's significance to the team has not escaped the stand-in, for all that Lampard will leave the club next summer under freedom of contract.
Asked if the current Chelsea – who completed the signing of the Brazilian full-back Wallace from Fluminense on Tuesday, although he won't join the club until next summer – lacked strength of character, Benítez said: "Not really, but the problem we have is that some of the key players who have that character are still missing. They are injured. So the younger players who come in are having to adapt and learn about the Premier League without them. The character is there, but it's not on the pitch because they're injured. We have good, young players out there but having Lampard and Terry with them would help. You need that character to be competitive."
Lampard did play a part in training at Cobham but, while he continues to make progress with his calf injury, he will not be considered for selection against the Danes. Terry (knee) and Daniel Sturridge (hamstring) will be assessed by Benítez and his medical staff on Thursday and only then will a decision be taken as to whether the centre-half accompanies the squad to Japan on Saturday, immediately after the Premier League game against Sunderland, for the Fifa Club World Cup. Chelsea are mindful there would be little point the 31-year-old flying with them to Tokyo if he stands little chance of featuring in either of their games in Yokohama.
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