Rafael Benítez has hit back at criticism from Ray Wilkins that Ashley Cole's hamstring injury was the Spaniard's fault, joking that he thought the accusation was an April Fool's joke.
Benítez, the Chelsea interim manager, rested Cole for Saturday's Premier League defeat at Southampton and the left-back was then forced off in the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United on Monday.
Wilkins, a former Chelsea midfielder and assistant manager, claimed Benítez had "taken liberties" with his team selection against Southampton during the European champions' push for a top-four place. "I honestly feel he has to play all the time, Ashley. He is one of these machines," Wilkins told Talksport. "You have to keep it well oiled and it will fly. Had he played on Saturday, he wouldn't have done that yesterday."
Benítez, who revealed that he could stay in England at the end of the campaign after his spell in west London, issued a good-humoured response. "I thought it was April 1st," he said. "It was the first of April. You can't take the comments seriously – first of April.
"I have a degree in sports science from Spain, I have spoken to many people about injuries. It's the first time I ever heard anything like this. First of April."
Chelsea will be without Cole for about two weeks, meaning Ryan Bertrand will deputise for Thursday's Europa League quarter-final with Rubin Kazan at Stamford Bridge.
Demba Ba is cup-tied for the match and is likely to be replaced by Fernando Torres, while Gary Cahill is injured. Benítez, who defended his selection during a busy period for the club, claimed the mood at Chelsea is positive after defeating United and when asked about receiving credit for that result, he said: "I don't need credit. The players and staff were happy and the fans were pleased. Everyone wants to win every single game – fans, staff, players. I'm quite happy with that.
"To play against Manchester United two games and do so well, I'm quite pleased. I like to win, to challenge for trophies. I have a top side and I would like to stay in a top side. Why not in England?"
Bertrand, 23, has impressed when filling in for Cole, and says challenging and putting pressure on the England player is key. "It's always going to be the target. It's down to me to keep training well and get performances up to a level and keep pushing and pushing until the time comes," he said.
"He's been a focal point for my career, even before he came to Chelsea. He was somebody I looked up to and watched when he was younger. Now he's at Chelsea I can see it at first hand, how he goes about his work. He's been a good basis for me to plan around.
"It's personally a chance for me to come in and play the next few games, improve that focus on the next game and make sure we get the right result. As a young player it's a chance to get a fantastic trophy to add to my collection if we go all the way and win it."
Rubin boast a good record in the Europa League this season, having already beaten Internazionale and Atlético Madrid, and sit fourth in the Russian top flight.
Benítez has been criticised for apparently prioritising the cup competitions this season rather than the battle for a Champions League qualification place. "To win against European teams with good players, you have to consider that as really positive," he said. "When we won the Uefa Cup and league with Valencia, we won both. Why can't you? I don't see any fan who says 'Don't win versus United, don't win this game'. You have to try to win.
"You have to think about one game at a time, every game. A top side has to be like this, you have to approach the next game as the most important."