West Brom travel to Stamford Bridge to take on a Blues side desperate for all three points.
Rafael Benitez, the under-pressure Chelsea interim manager, urged all connected with the club to unite Friday as he tried to get irate fans onside.
Benitez has faced renewed calls for his dismissal after he launched an astonishing attack on the club’s supporters and the Stamford Bridge hierarchy following Chelsea’s 2-0 victory at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday.
“What I said is we have 11 games to play, 33 points (to play for), we must stick together and get behind the team,” Benitez told a Friday news conference.
“The message is clear — I have no problem with the board, Michael Emenalo (Chelsea’s technical director), Roman Abramovich or the players.
“I will do the best for the club. I have 26 years of principles, respect and education to achieve what I have,” the Spaniard added.
“I would like to see a fantastic atmosphere supporting the team, and I will be really pleased with that.”
The 52-year-old, despised by many Chelsea fans following his spell with their rivals Liverpool, risked the wrath of Blues’ owner Abramovich by asking why the club insisted on making him an “interim” manager when he replaced the sacked Roberto di Matteo in November.
His outburst at Middlesbrough sparked speculation his position was in immediate danger, but he took training as scheduled as the European champions prepared for Saturday’s Premier League game with West Bromwich Albion.
Benitez, who has made it clear he intends to see out a contract that expires at the end of the season, said Friday he had no problem with his status.
“It’s not an issue now,” he explained. “I said before… One thing’s a mistake. Another’s an issue. Now it’s not an issue.
“In my head, I am the manager. I have to manage the team,” said Benitez, who on Wednesday confirmed he will leave Chelsea at the end of the season.
“I will finish my contract until the end and I don’t want to be a distraction,” he added.
Benitez highlighted the positive crowd atmosphere in wins over Napoli last season and London rivals Arsenal as examples of the kind of backing he wanted to see this weekend.
“Against Napoli they were running an extra mile. Feeling the support against Arsenal, they were running an extra mile. I was trying to explain that if we stick together it will be easier.”
Asked if his comments after the Middlesbrough match had made fans less likely to support the side, Benitez replied: “The fans can express their feelings. That is normal.
“I don’t have any problem with that. They have to stay behind the team, supporting the team. That is the way for me. It will be fantastic for the players, for everyone.
“I am part of the team. I need the supporters behind the team.”
For all the subsequent controversy, Benitez insisted he had no regrets about joining Chelsea.
“When I decided to come here, it was because I have ambition. I have passion for the game and ambition, and I want to win trophies.
“Still we have two trophies to play for (the FA Cup and Europa League) and I will try to do my best and win these trophies.
“I have confidence that what I’m doing is right, and I’ll try and do my best. And I will try to do my best until the last minute.”
Chelsea are currently fourth in the table, two points clear of Arsenal in the race for a place in next season’s Champions League but 19 adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester United.
“Realistically, it won’t be easy. Manchester City (currently second and seven points ahead of Chelsea) are a good team and they have good players. They can keep winning games and it will be difficult. But you never know in football.
“West Brom will be the first one. After that we’ll try to progress in the Europa League and FA Cup. Every game is important. We want to win every game.”
Venue Stamford Bridge, Saturday 3pm
Last season Chelsea 2 West Brom 1
Referee Kevin Friend
This season’s matches 14 Y50, R1, 3.64 cards per game
Subs from Blackman, Hilário, Turnbull, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Bertrand, Ake, Oscar, Moses, Marin, Torres, Nkumu
Doubtful Terry (knee)
Injured Benayoun (ankle, 10 Mar), Romeu (knee, Aug)
Form guide LWLDWD
Disciplinary record Y39 R2
Leading scorer Lampard 11
West Bromwich Albion
Subs from Daniels, Myhill, Rosenberg, Thomas, Odemwingie, Jones, Tamas, Fortuné, Allan, Hurst, Roofe, Brown
Doubtful Long (ankle), Odemwingie (unsettled)
Injured Thorne (knee, Sep), Gera (knee, Oct)
Suspended Popov (last of three)
Ineligble Lukaku (terms of loan)
Form guide WWLLDL
Disciplinary record Y47 R2
Leading scorer Lukaku 12
West Brom have beaten Chelsea in each of their last two games, both at The Hawthorns, having lost all previous 11 Premier League encounters.
Chelsea have won all six Premier League meetings at Stamford Bridge, scoring 17 goals and conceding just once.
Albion’s last win at Chelsea was a 3-1 Division One triumph in September 1978.
The Baggies can become the first club to do the double over The Blues this season.
Chelsea have taken 25 points from a possible 45 in the league under Rafa Benitez (W7, D4, L4). It’s the fifth-best record over this period, behind Manchester United (38), Tottenham (34), Manchester City (28) and Arsenal (27).
They have conceded at least twice in four of their last six league encounters, losing two of the last three.
Chelsea have been awarded more penalties (nine) than any other side this campaign.
It’s 12 years since the Blues last lost a Premier League home game in the month of March, a 4-2 defeat against Sunderland in 2001.
If selected, Ashley Cole will be making his 200th Premier League start for Chelsea, and Juan Mata his 100th Blues appearance.
Steve Clarke played for Chelsea between 1987-98, winning the Cup-Winners’ Cup, FA Cup and League Cup. He later became
Jose Mourinho’s assistant as the Blues claimed two league titles, two League Cups and one FA Cup.
The Baggies have 40 points from 27 games – a Premier League club record – and the most since the 1978-79 campaign, when they also had 40 points. That was the last season they completed the double over Chelsea en route to a third-placed finish.
West Brom are the sole Premier League team not to have had an Englishman score for them this season. Fulham (2001-02 and 2005-06) are the only club to have gone an entire season without an English scorer.
West Brom 6/1 to beat Chelsea: Chelsea vs West Brom Betting