Rafael Benitez has been told to prioritise securing a place in next season's Champions League in the remainder of the season after impressing on Chelsea's high command the extent of fatigue in the squad he inherited.
Benitez has held meetings in the past 10 days with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, and most recently with director of football Michael Emanalo, who is responsible for the club's recruitment policy and a key adviser to the owner.
In his talks with Emanalo at Chelsea's Cobham training base, Benitez has stressed that the rigours of Chelsea's season – they have played 40 games already – has taken its toll on a squad he believes lacks alternatives beyond the core of first-team players.
He will rely on his most influential players when Chelsea travel to Reading tonight for a game he knows they must win to recapture momentum in their league campaign. But with an FA Cup replay against Brentford to come and the Europa League starting on February 14, the Spaniard is having to marshal his resources.
"We are playing every three days, more than anyone, and we have some problems with players in the Africa Cup of Nations. We also went to Japan (for the Club World Cup). Some will say that's excuses. But it's not. It's a reality."
Benitez has found an ally in John Terry, who called on the players to "liven up" in the pursuit of Champions League football after the dispiriting 2-2 draw at Brentford. "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."
"We have another game we could do without, but we should beat them (Brentford) at the Bridge." (© Daily Telegraph, London)