Benitez banishes Blues title talk
Despite Chelsea's surge to third in table after losing just one game in seven, Spanish boss says team will focus on taking it a match at a time
Interim coach Rafael Benitez says Chelsea have no thoughts about a title challenge despite closing on the Manchester clubs after a fourth straight victory.
Benitez's side's 2-1 win at Everton on Sunday moved them to within four points of second-placed Manchester City with a game in hand.
But they remain 11 points adrift of leaders Manchester United and despite the clear progress being made by the Stamford Bridge club, Benitez maintains it is too soon to consider Chelsea potential challengers.
"We have a game in hand but we still have to win it," the Spaniard said.
"Our idea is to approach the competition thinking about one game at a time. We are not watching the table too much.
"We are just thinking about the next game and the next three points we will be trying to win. We will see where we are after some more games."
Benitez was an unpopular appointment with the club's fans following the sacking of Roberto di Matteo, who guided Chelsea to the Champions League trophy last season.
But the interim manager feels that Chelsea's unsuccessful trip to the Club World Cup in Japan has helped his players to adopt his ideas.
The Blues were beaten in the final by Brazilian outfit Corinthians but former Liverpool manager Benitez thinks the heavy training schedule has been key to improving performances.
That defeat was the only match Chelsea have not won in their last seven games in all competitions.
Benitez added: "There is a process of understanding each other and the players knowing what we want.
"The trip to Japan was important for us because we were together for a long time, training. We had at least two or three sessions where we could work on new things and you can see it working out.
"We are still making some mistakes that we have to manage, but the team is much better.
"What impresses me is the attitude of the players. They are keen to learn and train. Myself and the staff are really pleased with the way they work and train and behave each day, and that is important for the future."
Premier League leaders Manchester United begin 2013 at Wigan Athletic, with manager Alex Ferguson hoping they can muster enough freshness to keep Manchester City at arm's length.
United face games against Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, Fulham and Everton over the next six weeks, while Real Madrid loom on the horizon in the Champions League. While United were strolling past West Brom, City were embroiled in a frantic game at Norwich City in which they eventually prevailed 4-3 despite the first-half dismissal of Samir Nasri for head-butting Sebastien Bassong.
For all the champions' endeavour, the distance between themselves and United remains the same, but manager Roberto Mancini believes it is still too early in the season to be concerned by league positions ahead of their game against Stoke.
Below the top two, the contest to secure Champions League qualification threatens to be keenly fought, with just five points separating third-place Chelsea and West Brom in seventh.
Fourth-place Tottenham welcome Reading to White Hart Lane.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will hope for a more straightforward game at Southampton after seeing his side blunder past Newcastle United 7-3 in a madcap match on Saturday.