- Premier League
Benitez impressed by defence in Terry's absence
Rafael Benitez has praised Chelsea's defenders, insisting they have proved that the Blues are not reliant on injured skipper John Terry.
Terry, 32, suffered a knee injury in Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Liverpool last month and has been unavailable for Benitez's ten matches in charge.
There were concerns that Terry's absence could derail Chelsea over a critical period in the season, but Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz have since formed solid defensive partnerships.
Ivanovic and Cahill have only joined forces at the back five times, but were vital in helping Chelsea keep consecutive clean sheets for the first time in more than a year with wins against Aston Villa and Norwich in the last week.
"Everyone knows they are good players and the key is the understanding between them is better now and, a little bit, we are adjusting movement and positions," Benitez said. "You can see that the team is improving in defence but also it is creating chances in attack and this balance is the key for a top side - so you have to have more clean sheets but still score goals.
"The main thing for me is that if you have a clean sheet and can score goals, that is perfect. To be strong in defence is part of the game and, after, you try to play football and go forward and create but you cannot avoid being a proper team in defence.
"Since I have arrived, we have been working with different defenders. Obviously, JT [Terry] was not here and we have used Cahill, Ivanovic and David and all of them have done a great job.
"Working with these players and trying to change their movements is just a question of spending hours on the pitch at the training ground and you can see the difference.
Cahill has shown the greatest improvement under Benitez after failing to assert himself during Roberto Di Matteo's tenure.
"If we continue working hard and he continues working as hard as he is doing now and is keen to learn, he will improve," Benitez said. "How much, we will see. He is good in the air, can play the ball and is quick so he just has to adjust some movements and he will be even better.
"I think he has to learn from everyone around. JT obviously has experience but Ivanovic is very strong as a defender and David Luiz has good positioning and good movement so he is learning from everyone and hopefully he can improve a little bit every game or every week."
Chelsea's ambition to secure their third clean sheet in a row will be made easier with Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini currently serving a three-game ban and Benitez refused to comment on speculation that the Belgian could be moving to Stamford Bridge in January.
"Normally, we don't talk about transfers so sorry about that," he said. "They are still winning without him but obviously he is a good player."