LONDON (Reuters) – Chelsea captain John Terry could make his first start since November in Sunday’s home Premier League clash with Arsenal after interim boss Rafael Benitez called for "players with character" on the pitch.
The centre bank has been dogged by a knee problem but is in line to return as third-placed Chelsea bid to get their Premier League campaign back on track after a lacklustre 2-2 home draw with Southampton when Terry was a substitute.
If Benitez thought the pressure was off him after Chelsea target Pep Guardiola was announced as the next Bayern Munich coach on Wednesday, he had a quick shock a few hours later when the Londoners let a two-goal lead slip against the strugglers.
A good way to get the restless fans back on board is to bring back a tough-tackling club hero for a full-bloodied city derby with rivals Arsenal (1330 BST).
"(Terry) was training with the team and he was fine. There was no problem so we will see after tomorrow’s session," Benitez told a news conference on Friday.
"It’s important to have players with character on the pitch, especially if you want to manage the game well. We are working very hard with John and will see how he feels."
Former Liverpool boss Benitez was appointed only until the end of the season after Champions League-winning manager Roberto Di Matteo was sacked in November.
He has never been popular with fans and was reminded of the ruthlessness of football when Southampton fired manager Nigel Adkins on Friday despite Wednesday’s strong fightback.
"I was really surprised," said Spaniard Benitez, whose side are 13 points behind leaders Manchester United. "He was doing a great job. At the start he had some problems but they have been doing well recently."
A win on Sunday will go a little way to placating his supporters if they stretch the gap in the Champions League places but Benitez is expecting a difficult game despite sixth-placed Arsenal’s inconsistencies this term.
"They are close and if we win we will have a big difference, but there are still a lot of games and a lot of points to play for," he said.
"We need to keep calm, try to go forward in the right way and not give any hope to the other team. Arsenal are a top team, but they will not play with 11 men behind the ball and stay on the edge of their box, it will be a different kind of game."
Benitez refused to be drawn on whether in-form new signing Demba Ba would continue to lead the line or whether Fernando Torres might return to the starting XI either to partner the Senegalese or replace him.
(Writing by Mark Meadows, editing by Justin Palmer)
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