Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez insists nothing will deflect his focus from helping the squad secure a successful end to a turbulent season.
The Blues head to Middlesbrough tonight for their FA Cup fifth-round clash on the back of a 2-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at Manchester City, which saw the Blues slip to fourth in the table – two points ahead of Arsenal – after Tottenham’s late win at West Ham on Monday night.
Benitez played down reports of a heated exchange in training between him and senior players, led by captain John Terry, insisting it was very much “normal talk”, and stressed his relationship with the group was “fantastic”.
Despite the negative headlines, not to mention less than warm welcome from some supporters since the former Liverpool manager replaced Roberto di Matteo in November, the Spaniard remains focused on the job in hand.
“You are professional and you know, more or less, how things are going here in terms of what happens if you lose or win, but I have to do my job, which is to beat Middlesbrough tomorrow,” Benitez said.
“I will be working hard until the end.
“Me and my staff have been working really hard at 100 per cent to get the right balance and right team on the pitch.
“The players know how hard we are working, that is the main thing.
“They are clever enough and realise they will be here with long contracts, so they have to perform and be ready if they want to stay at the maximum level, for example, in the Champions League.”
Chelsea have dropped 13 points out of 24 this year, winning just six of their 15 games in all competitions.
Benitez accepts if Chelsea are to hold off a late challenge from Arsenal or aim to overtake Spurs, then consistency will be key.
“We have had a lot of very good games this year and we have a very good group of players. If we do the things we have to do, we can win against anyone,” he said.
“This team finished sixth last year. We have to fight now for the top three.
“This is a good team with good players. Our target is to finish in the top four, top three. We will see.”
Benitez added: “We have played with quality and the lads are training hard, so it is not a problem.
“I like to talk with them every day, and they are all convinced we would finish in the top three.”