- Premier League
Benitez: Top-four race to go down to final day
Rafael Benitez insists Chelsea must maintain their winning run ahead of another busy fixture period, predicting they will not secure Champions League football until the final day of the season.
Chelsea moved into third place with a 2-1 win over Sunderland on Sunday to finish a chaotic nine days which saw them grab three victories from four matches.
But the celebrations were short-lived as Chelsea turn their attention to another busy period with a short turnaround between matches against Rubin Kazan, Manchester City, Fulham and Liverpool.
Different results over the last fortnight could have seen Benitez come under further scrutiny, but he believes the string of consecutive wins holds his side in good stead for the remainder of the season and isn't surprised by the recent success.
"With too many games in a short period of time, it's important to keep the team winning," Benitez said. "You can play anyone and they have to be ready to give something. We have four games in the next [10 days] and we cannot stop, so we have to get results and have the right mentality."
Chelsea grabbed the three points over Paolo Di Canio's side in scrappy circumstances with a Matthew Kilgallon own goal and a Branislav Ivanovic deflection from David Luiz's shot cancelling out Sunderland's opener.
"I was really pleased with the team," Benitez said. "We didn't start well and gave the ball away easily. We conceded a late goal but had a good reaction in the second half and were very positive.
"Fernando [Torres] made an impact quickly and we were on top of them, scored two goals and had control of the game. We didn't score the third, we had to defend and after playing four games in eight days I am really pleased. The most important thing was to get the result and we did it."
Six points separate Chelsea from sixth-placed Everton, but Benitez is adamant Champions League qualification will not be assured until the final day of the season.
"I don't think it will be possible," he said. "Tottenham and Arsenal are pushing, and Everton, so we have to carry on until the end. Hopefully we can do well next week in the cup competitions and after against Fulham and Liverpool.
"We can't say it will be done because they will be pushing too. It's important to have everyone sticking together and pushing in the same direction. It's very simple and very clear."