CHELSEA manager Rafael Benitez insists he is happy to finally have a dilemma over who to play at centre-forward as he contemplates taking a major step towards his first silverware at the club.
Benitez must decide whether to recall £50m record signing Fernando Torres for tonight’s Capital One Cup semi-final first leg at home to Swansea, or keep faith with new recruit Demba Ba, who scored twice on his debut on Saturday.
Torres is the Blues’ established first choice, despite failing to recapture his sparkling Liverpool form since moving to Stamford Bridge two years ago, and has a special place in the heart of both Benitez and owner Roman Abramovich.
Ba’s explosive start to his Chelsea career, having joined for £7m from Newcastle last week, raises the delicate prospect of him usurping the costly Spaniard in the pecking order at some point, rather than merely acting as his understudy.
But having negotiated a hectic seven weeks in which his team have faced 13 fixtures relying almost entirely on Torres, Benitez is relieved to at last have the chance to rotate his striking options.
“It’s good for me because before I didn’t have to think about that. It will be difficult, but I’m pleased to be in this position,” he said.
“As a manager, you have to take responsibility and choose a player. Before it was about Fernando and keeping him fit. It’s always important for a top side to have options, especially when you play every three days.
“It depends on them, how they feel and how they perform. There is no rule that you have to play one or the other, you have to manage it depending on the team. We have a lot of conversations about what I want to do and what I expect from them. We have two good options, they will compete and everything is positive in terms of the team.”
Benitez revealed that captain John Terry, who has been out injured since 11 November, is close to a return to first-team football and is set to make his playing comeback for the club’s under-21 side tomorrow.
“Hopefully he can play some minutes in the short-term,” he said. “It’s a positive as before he was just doing the warm up. He’s getting closer but it depends on his reactions. If he is okay and can train the day after, at least we can start considering him as an option.”
Relief at his availability is tempered by the loss of forward Victor Moses and midfielder John Obi Mikel, who are on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Nigeria, and Benitez admits Ba’s signing may not be the last.
He added: “If we have to do something we will do it, but I respect my own players and trust them.”
Chelsea’s striking options
This season 14 goals from 32 games
Last season 11 goals from 49 games
2010/11 (for Chelsea) 1 in 18
Since joining Chelsea 26 goals in 99 games @ 0.2626 goals per game
2010/11 (for Liverpool) 9 in 26
2009/10 22 in 32
2008/9 17 in 38
2007/8 33 from 46
for Liverpool 81 in 142
@ 0.57 goals per game
Total in England 107 in 241 @ 0.44 goals per game
This season 15 goals from 22 games
Last season 16 in 36 2010/11 7 in 13 (in English football)
38 out of 71
@ 0.54 goals per game