Benitez: Chelsea are still in the title race

Benitez
Benitez says he will be taking one game at a time, but that Chelsea can maintain their title push. Photo: PA

Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez has insisted his team are still in the Barclays Premier League title race.

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has claimed it is now a two-horse race between his side and champions Manchester City, who collide at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow.

Chelsea sit third in the standings, 10 points behind leaders United and seven adrift of second-placed City, and must prevail at Sunderland today to stay in touch.

"I'm not worried about the distance. It's important we win so we are close, but all we can do is think about one game at a time," Benitez said.

"We have to improve the team and be mentally strong enough to compete in the second part of the league.

"At Valencia we were eight points behind in January. If we have to do the same here, we will do it. But we have to show the same character we have.

"The main thing is about the evolution of our team. If we're stronger, we'll be able to win games in a row. We have to find form."

Chelsea depart for the FIFA Club World Cup tonight and expect no disruption to the tournament from the metre-high tsunami that struck Japan this morning. They will head off without captain John Terry, though, who has been ruled out of the competition because of his knee injury.

The logistics of playing a two-match tournament in the Far East, book-ended by a Premier League clash with Sunderland and Capital One Cup tie against Leeds, is less than ideal for a club that also finds itself in the Europa League.

"Flying to the other side of the world isn't beneficial, but can we change the situation? No," Benitez said.

"You take the positives out of it which is I'll spend the time with the players. Maybe it'll be negative and they'll be boring!

"No, we will work with it. It's not ideal. You'd like to train for a week and train with intensity, but this is what we have."

Frank Lampard has recovered from the calf injury that has sidelined him since October, but Benitez insists he will not start against Sunderland.

"It's been too long out for him. He needs to come back little by little. He cannot start a game now," he said.

"Lampard can find players between the lines, get into the box, score goals. So he's a different kind of midfielder to those we have at the moment.

"The ones we have can do a bit of everything, working, but he adds something.

"He cannot be box to box like 10 years ago, but he'll be important in possession to understand the game."