'Exchange' with unhappy John Terry has Rafael Benitez on back foot at Chelsea

The Blues take on Middlebrough tonight

Rafael Benitez insists that he retains the Chelsea players' backing after a frank exchange of views during a post mortem into their hugely disappointing defeat by Manchester City.

The interim manager claimed that tempers remained in check when he addressed the squad before the start of training on Monday, although the frustrations of captain John Terry, who did not play at the Etihad because of injury, appear to have been obvious.

"I think that it was a normal meeting between players and technical staff, as after every game," said Benitez, whose side have now dropped to fourth place in the Premier League after Sunday's 2-0 defeat to City and Tottenham's victory at West Ham.

"You can see it all around the world, after every game, you exchange your opinions. Normal. Nothing else.

"Especially after a defeat, disappointment is normal. It was a normal meeting. I can understand the frustration of Terry, an important player for us who is trying to help and push because he wants to win, but he has been injured for 16 weeks and has had problems with his knee.

"It was a very brief exchange of ideas. That is it. It was just a team talk after a defeat. We had a meeting on the pitch with my players and my technical staff. It's part of our business."

Benitez and his players travelled north for tomorrow night's delayed FA Cup fifth-round tie against Middlesbrough, with a match against Manchester United at Old Trafford awaiting the winners. Suggestions of a rift between manager and players will only reinforce the view that Chelsea's already tumultuous season is in danger of unravelling further as the bottom-line target of Champions League qualification looks at risk.

But the embattled Benitez is adamant his approach has been wholly accepted by the team. "I can guarantee the players know what we're trying to do and believe in what we're trying to do, 100 percent," he said. "The players are fully behind our ideas. I can guarantee that."

"I talk with them every day and they're really pleased and know what we're trying to do every game. We have played with quality. They are training hard, so it's not a problem. I like to talk with them every day, but today I was talking with three or four, and after two or three, and they were all convinced we'd finish in the top three."

With his own contract due to expire in June, the former Liverpool manager said that there was no danger the squad's motivation and commitment would dip. "They are clever enough and realise they will be here with longer contracts, so they have to perform and be ready if they want to stay at the maximum level," Benitez added. "For example, in the Champions League.

"I will be working hard until the end. We have a game tomorrow, and 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."

Terry could find himself on the bench again tonight after continuing to struggle with a knee injury while Gary Cahill (virus) and Cesar Azpilicueta (leg) are out.

Odds Middlesbrough 7-1 Draw 15-4 Chelsea 4-9

Kick-off 7.45pm.

Referee M Atkinson (West Yorks)

TV Highlights ITV4, 10.30pm.

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