Benitez calls for strong end to the season from Chelsea

Rafa Benitez will leave Chelsea at the end of the season. Photo: PA

Rafael Benitez has challenged his Chelsea stars to keep winning throughout their congested schedule after returning to third place in the Barclays Premier League with a 2-1 defeat of Paolo Di Canio's Sunderland.

Chelsea claimed a third win in a third separate competition in seven days at Stamford Bridge to leapfrog Tottenham and Arsenal in the table. They lead fourth-placed Spurs on goal difference with a game in hand.

On Thursday manager Benitez's men will be in Moscow to play Rubin Kazan, seeking to confirm a place in the Europa League semi-finals, before returning to London for Sunday's FA Cup last-four clash with Manchester City at Wembley.

Key Premier League fixtures with Fulham and Liverpool follow, but, at present, the Blues are on course to achieve their three remaining goals this term, with securing Champions League football next term chief among them.

"You cannot stop," said Benitez, who will continue to rotate his squad due to the congested calendar.

"The main thing is to get results and try to be sure that we have the right mentality every game.

"It's important to keep the team winning, keep the team ready and everybody on their toes. They (the players) have to be ready to give us something."

Chelsea appeared fatigued in their fourth game in eight days and first in the Premier League since the defeat at Southampton and trailed at half-time when Cesar Azpilicueta directed the ball into his own net.

Half-time substitute Fernando Torres inspired the comeback, his surging run leading to Matt Kilgallon's 47th-minute equalising own goal, before Branislav Ivanovic netted what proved to be the winner by diverting David Luiz's shot into the corner.

"The most important thing was to get the result and we did it," Benitez added.

"We try to play well because it's easier playing well, you will win more games. Sometimes you cannot: they were well organised and we didn't start really well.

"The reaction was the most important thing. We showed character, we showed determination in the second half and we scored two goals."

Benitez anticipates the race for a Champions League qualifying spot will continue until May 19, but he hopes last season's European Cup winners will be certain of their place before then.

The London derby with Tottenham - a date for which is still to be confirmed - could effectively be a play-off for Champions League football next term.

"Spurs and Arsenal are still there pushing, Everton as well," Benitez said. "We have to continue to the end.

"Hopefully we can do well in the cup competitions and be ready for Fulham and Liverpool."

Victory may have come at a cost with Demba Ba going off at half-time with an ankle injury following a poor Craig Gardner challenge.

Ba is cup-tied for Moscow, so will benefit from a rest anyway, but Benitez must wait to discover the full extent of his injury.

Benitez said: "The tackle (on Ba) was a heavy tackle, but we don't know now. It's too early."