CHELSEA manager Rafael Benitez insists tonight’s trip to Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League last 16 is at the forefront of his mind, despite being just three days away from a mouthwatering FA Cup quarter-final tie against Premier League leaders Manchester United.
The Blues will play their 50th game of the season tonight, before jetting home to prepare for Sunday’s trip to Old Trafford in a competition they have won seven times previously.
Forwards Demba Ba and Victor Moses, plus midfielder Ramires did not travel to Romania with the rest of the Blues squad, but Benitez is adamant he does not favour one competition over another.
“We will try to progress in every competition and the next game is the most important game,” said Benitez, who won the FA Cup as Liverpool manager in 2006.
“Now we are here to play in the Europa League and we will try to win. On Sunday we will be at Old Trafford and afterwards we’ll concentrate on West Ham, or whatever.
“We know that all the competitions are important and if we can finish in the top four [in the Premier League], then everybody will be happy.”
Midfielder Frank Lampard is set to start at the National Arena, which hosted last season’s Europa League final, and goes in search of his 200th Chelsea goal.
The England international is yet to be offered an extension to his current contract, which expires in the summer, and the club had to clarify this week that talks on a new deal were not ongoing, despite such claims from chief executive Ron Gourlay during a promotional trip to Asia.
However, Benitez believes Lampard, who is only five goals away from becoming the club’s all-time top goalscorer, is not distracted by the lingering question mark over his future at Stamford Bridge.
“He’s a good professional, he’s focused and he’s concentrated,” said Benitez. “I’m really pleased with that. “I don’t know about the future. It’s important to concentrate on winning and then after that we’ll see with other things.”
WHO ARE STEAUA?
Steaua Bucharest became the first eastern European team to win the Champions League in 1986.
Have won a record 23 Liga 1 Bergenbier titles in their history.
Their squad of 32 contains just five non-Romanian players.
Have conceded more goals, 11, than any other team to have reached the Europa League last 16 this season.
Managed by 37-year-old Laurentiu Reghecampf, who won one cap for Romania.
Are top of Liga 1 and 12 points clear of nearest challengers Astra Ploiesti.
Have won five of their last seven games in all competitions.