John Terry has told his Chelsea team-mates to raise their game, saying recent performances have not been good enough.
Interim first-team coach Rafael Benitez is under pressure after the Blues followed their Capital One Cup exit at Swansea with a fortunate 2-2 draw against League One Brentford in the FA Cup fourth round.
Benitez travelled into work today to more reports that he is facing the sack just two months after replacing Roberto di Matteo. Those claims are wide of the mark report The Evening Standard, as the Spaniard is expected to stay until the end of the campaign before Roman Abramovich appoints manager No9 on a permanent basis in the summer.
Terry, who made his first start for 11 weeks against Brentford having recovered from a knee injury, believes the players, rather than Benitez, must take the blame for their below-par displays, especially in cup games.
Chelsea struggled for consistency last season but showed character to cope with a busy fixture schedule and win the FA Cup and Champions League.
The next challenge comes at Reading in the Premier League tomorrow night and the Chelsea captain feels the time has come to start demonstrating similar resolve.
Terry said: “We need to liven up a bit and realise the importance to the fans and the club. Champions League football is a must next season.
“We saw last season, going to the Champions League Final suffering with all the extra games and stuff like that, we ended up finishing sixth in the League.
“It’s difficult but we have a squad and it’s down to the players who come in to rotate and play well.”
Chelsea have already played 40 games this term, having flown to Japan for the Club World Cup final before Christmas, and the replay against Brentford on Sunday 18 February is an unwelcome addition to an already intense fixture list . Their participation in the Europa League starts next month when they face Sparta Prague in the last 32.
Terry, who damaged his knee in a collision with Liverpool’s Luis Suarez in November, added: “Even though it’s great to be back personally, on a team performance we should be winning the game [at Brentford] and now we’ve made it difficult for ourselves with a replay again.
“We have another game we could do without but we should beat them at the Bridge. I was disappointed because we didn’t fight and they wanted it more.
“We’re not [winning any trophies at the moment]. It’s disappointing going to Swansea and not scoring over two legs of the semi-final [Chelsea lost the first game 2-0 at home and failed to score at the Liberty Stadium], being so lacklustre, like we were at Brentford.
“Over the two legs against Swansea, at home we did better but going there I’d rather we’d lost that three or 4-0 and give it a go and we didn’t do that.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea are expected to lodge an appeal against the Football Association’s decision to charge Eden Hazard with misconduct for his clash with a ballboy at Swansea.
The Belgian midfielder is already serving a three-game ban having been sent off but the FA want to punish him further.