Benitez hails new-look Chelsea defence
Updated: Sunday, 30 Dec 2012 13:01
Rafael Benitez has hailed his Chelsea defence after helping them prove there is life after John Terry at Stamford Bridge.
Benitez takes his resurgent Blues to Everton today having seemingly found a way for them to both win and keep clean sheets without their talismanic captain.
It was a problem which defeated predecessors Roberto Di Matteo and Andre Villas-Boas, both of whom lost their jobs while Terry was out injured.
But Benitez, who has been unable to call upon his skipper for all of his 10 matches in charge, has risen to the challenge.
Chelsea will travel to Goodison Park having conceded just eight goals under their interim manager, compared to 21 in Di Matteo's final 10 games at the helm.
Their last two matches have also seen them combine back-to-back victories and clean sheets in the Barclays Premier League for the first time in more than a year.
They came despite the absence of Terry and Benitez's use of the largely untried partnership of Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic, who had started just three times together at centre-back prior to last Sunday's 8-0 thrashing of Aston Villa.
Benitez said: "Everyone knows they are good players and the key is the understanding between them is better now and, a little bit, we are adjusting movement and positions.
"You can see that the team is improving in defence but also it is creating chances in attack and this balance is the key for a top side - so you have to have more clean sheets but still score goals.
"The main thing for me is that if you have a clean sheet and can score goals, that is perfect.
"To be strong in defence is part of the game and, after, you try to play football and go forward and create but you cannot avoid being a proper team in defence."
Benitez, whose decision to move David Luiz into midfield has also paid off, added: "Since I have arrived, we have been working with different defenders.
"Obviously, JT was not here and we have used Cahill, Ivanovic and David and all of them have done a great job.
"Working with these players and trying to change their movements is just a question of spending hours on the pitch at the training ground and you can see the difference."
"You have ideas but, at the end of the day, you have a different group of players so you have to manage a different way" - Rafael Benitez
Cahill especially has responded, having looked all at sea at times alongside Luiz.
Benitez said: "If we continue working hard and he continues working as hard as he is doing now and is keen to learn, he will improve.
"How much, we will see. He is good in the air, can play the ball and is quick so he is just has to adjust some movements and he will be even better.
"I think he has to learn from everyone around.
"JT obviously has experience but Ivanovic is very strong as a defender and David Luiz has good positioning and good movement so he is learning from everyone and hopefully he can improve a little bit every game or every week."
After joining Chelsea in January, Cahill immediately found himself held up as Terry's successor for club and country.
The 27-year-old's struggle to break up the Terry-Luiz partnership threatened to derail him on both fronts but he is starting to look like an England player once more.
Benitez's defence will face arguably its biggest test yet today against an Everton side who are flying high in the table and have made themselves Chelsea's bogey team in recent years.
They have won the sides' last three league meetings at Goodison Park, although Benitez won on his last three league visits there while Liverpool boss.
Indeed, the Spaniard boasted an impressive Merseyside derby record and he said of his blueprint for beating Everton: "You have ideas but, at the end of the day, you have a different group of players so you have to manage a different way."
Benitez's plans will be aided by the red-card ban being served by Toffees midfielder Marouane Fellaini, a player heavily linked with a January move to Chelsea.
"Normally, we don't talk about transfers so sorry about that!" Benitez said. "They are still winning without him but obviously he is a good player."