MANAGHER Jose Mourinho maintains every one of his Chelsea squad will have an important role to play over the hectic festive schedule – which kicks off with a Capital One Cup quarter-final at Sunderland.
The Blues closed up on Barclays Premier League leaders Arsenal with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, but with one eye on the upcoming showdown at the Emirates Stadium on December 23, Mourinho is likely to rotate the players for the trip to Wearside.
Centre-half Gary Cahill was rested at the weekend as a precaution following a minor thigh problem, and could return to the defence alongside David Luiz as Mourinho would like to rest captain John Terry.
Branislav Ivanovic is suspended, so Cesar Azpilicueta will switch to his favoured right-back role, with Ashley Cole returning on the left.
Chelsea battled to a 4-3 win at the Stadium of Light on December 4, and midfielder Juan Mata is expecting another stern test against Gus Poyet’s men, who are fighting to get out of the bottom three.
“We already won there a month ago and it was not easy,” the Spaniard said on his Chelsea website blog.
“Despite their position in the Premiership table, Sunderland is a team with players that can change a game such as (Jozy) Altidore or (Adam) Johnson. Winning there for the second time is going to be tough again.”
Terry has called on Chelsea to maintain their momentum heading into the new year, which will see them face Galatasaray and former striker Didier Drogba in the last 16 of the Champions League.
“We go to Sunderland again on Tuesday night in the Capital One Cup and then we have a really busy spell of league games over Christmas, starting with Arsenal away on Monday week,” the Blues captain said in his programme notes.
“With the games coming so regularly, it is up to us to build some momentum and push on in the league and the cups.”
Mourinho added: “Now is an important period for all of the squad – everyone has a role to play and a contribution to give.
“Every player will be important when we have so many games and competitions to play.”
Mourinho continued: “Azpilicueta can go on the right, Ashley Cole on the left, with David (Luiz) as a central defender.
“If Cahill recovers, I will play him if he does not recover, then I will go again with John, but I would like to John a rest for that match.”
Mourinho has been impressed with the efforts of the Blues skipper, who has again been a consistent performer since coming back into the side this season and has chalked up 23 appearances already.
“He is very solid, very focused with the ball he makes the right choice, and without the ball he is also very focused,” said Mourinho.
“I think he is having a very good season, let’s see if he can keep going this way because he has been fantastic.”
Chelsea could leapfrog Arsenal at the top of the Premier League with victory at the Emirates Stadium next week.
However, Mourinho is not getting carried away with pre-Christmas table settings just yet.
“I like the fact we will go there with this distance (between the teams), because it brings even more ingredients to the game,” he said on Chelsea TV.
“However, I don’t think in this league it will become a crucial game, if we leave Arsenal with five points difference or top of the league.
“I don’t think it will make a big difference in terms of what is going to happen in the future because the league (this season) is like this.”