Under-pressure Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez is confident he has the players' backing despite widespread reports of a training ground 'bust-up' with senior players, including John Terry.
The interim-manager is understood to have assembled his squad yesterday morning to go over the weekend's 2-0 defeat to Manchester City.
During his analysis the Spaniard was critical of the players, leading a number of the more senior playing staff to defend the squad, with captain Terry among those to voice his opinion.
The reports were just the latest episode to add to pressure on Benitez's position at Stamford Bridge, with speculation that his contract, which expires at the end of the season, will be terminated early.
Despite the conjecture, The Evening Standard report that Benitez is confident he has the full backing of all the Chelsea players.
While the reports of a 'bust-up' are understood to have been exagerated, views were exchanged over how the team can improve for the crucial run-in to the end of the season.
The players then had a training session as normal as they began preparations to face Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium in the FA Cup fifth round tomorrow night.
But Chelsea’s hopes of finishing in the top four have been placed in doubt following the loss at Etihad Stadium. Tottenham’s win at West Ham last night has lifted them above the Blues into third and Arsenal now trail them by only two points.
The club handed Benitez a contract as interim first-team manager until May when he replaced Roberto di Matteo in November.
He was told that the priority was to ensure Chelsea qualified for the Champions League next season and speculation is mounting that he could be fired if results don’t improve.
Chelsea have now won just three of their last eight Premier League games and Benitez’s overall record in all competitions stands at just 13 victories in 26 matches.
One source told The Evening Standard that “anything is possible” regarding Benitez’s future at present, especially with 33 points still left to play for, and his place at the helm is far from secure.
The fans continue to jeer him at every opportunity and were chanting the name of former manager Jose Mourinho, who is set to leave Real Madrid in the summer, during the home game against Sparta Prague last week.
It is believed that some of Benitez’s substitutions and tactical decisions have also caused concern and there are worries over his relationship with the players, notably Terry.
The latter, combined with the threat of competing in the Champions League next season, has proved a breaking point in the past for some previous managers who were sacked by owner Roman Abramovich, including Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas. Those within the club maintain that Benitez’s position is not in question and there is belief that results will soon turn around.
It is also felt that it is only a matter of time before Chelsea, who are also in the last 16 of the Europa League, start taking more of their chances which will ensure that results improve.
Worryingly for Benitez, Chelsea’s next League game is against West Brom, the team who provided the last opposition before Villas-Boas and Di Matteo were sacked in the last 12 months.
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