Benitez turns to Terry to help him keep Chelsea job
Rafael BenItez is banking on the return from injury of John Terry and Frank Lampard to buy him time to make the changes he believes are necessary at Chelsea.
After earning just two points from three Premier League games since succeeding Roberto Di Matteo 12 days ago, Benitez is already under pressure at Stamford Bridge, but he is hopeful the return of the club's most effective on-field leaders will ease concerns over his position.
Benitez and Terry have established a working relationship already, with the manager hoping to benefit from the defender's significant influence over the squad and the club.
Terry is understood to have helped Benitez get to know the players and staff at the training ground, and they watched the U-21s' victory over Fulham last week together, along with club owner Roman Abramovich, who travelled to Cobham to watch the 3-0 win.
Benitez believes that Terry can help transmit the messages he is attempting to convey in training onto the field, where he is aware there is a lack of explicit leadership in a side in transition.
After Saturday's 3-1 defeat at West Ham increased unease about Benitez's appointment, Chelsea categorically denied yesterday that Abramovich was poised to recruit former manager Avram Grant as a consultant.
While the owner is understood to be concerned about the downward trajectory of Chelsea's season, a club spokesman said there was "no truth" in suggestions that Grant's return was imminent.
The Israeli remains close to Abramovich and was the back-up choice as interim manager had Benitez refused the Russian's offer to succeed Di Matteo.
Sources close to Grant said he remained available to assist Chelsea should Abramovich ask, though it is hard to see what meaningful support he could offer Benitez.
Benitez is understood to be more concerned with speeding the recovery of Terry and Lampard than speculation around his position, with the captain's return seen as crucial to restoring leadership to a callow side.
After having his first day off on Sunday since joining the club, Benitez took charge of what was only his sixth full training session yesterday.
What he has seen so far, both on the field and at Cobham, is understood to have convinced him of the huge value of Terry and Lampard to Chelsea's prospects of competing for honours this season.
Terry, who has a knee injury, has an outside chance of playing some part against Sunderland on Saturday, but if the trip to the Stadium of Light comes too soon the captain will travel to Japan for the Club World Cup the following week expecting to feature.
The prognosis for Lampard, troubled by a persistent calf injury, is less certain but he is also seen as crucial to Benitez's plans, with his experience and ability to dictate tempo.
His passing was particularly missed in recent defeats, most notably in Turin in the 3-0 Champions League defeat by Juventus that was Di Matteo's last game in charge.
Benitez is acutely aware of the need for a positive result after two goalless draws at Stamford Bridge, against Manchester City and Fulham, were followed by Saturday's comprehensive reverse.
At Upton Park, Chelsea conceded momentum after taking a first-half lead through Juan Mata, and afterwards Benitez said they had failed to deal with West Ham's physicality.
He is certain that he can get the squad fitter and that given time on the training ground to impart his ideas they will be a different proposition after Christmas.
Time is not a commodity available to any Chelsea manager however, making Terry's return to the heart of the defence a priority for Benitez.
It remains to be seen how secure his position is, but he can take some comfort from the fact that Abramovich appointed him despite the overwhelming reservations of the supporters, a point drawn to his attention by senior figures at the club.
Benitez admitted he was "not 100pc sure" his position was secure but insisted he would not be driven out of the club by abuse, jeers and protest banners that are bound to be in evidence again in tomorrow's Champions League game at Danish minnows Nordsjaelland.
"No," he insisted. "When I decided to come, I knew it was a challenge. We have to win games, and everyone will be happier.
Ultimately, the only supporter Benitez really needs to make happy is Abramovich, who fans appealed to directly on Sunday with a chant of "Roman Abramovich, is this what you want?"
Results will be the ultimate arbiter of how long he gets to prove himself, with eight matches in 26 days until the turn of the year likely to be decisive.
Chelsea can only qualify for the group stage if they beat Nordsjaelland and Juventus lose at Shakhtar Donetsk.
They then play Sunderland before travelling to Japan for two games in the Club World Cup, a distraction that could prove well-timed if it provides an opportunity for Terry and Lampard to be reintroduced.
After a League Cup quarter-final at Leeds on December 19, they face league games against Aston Villa at home, and Norwich and Everton away, all winnable matches for the Chelsea of old.
Restoring that sense of inevitability, particularly away from Stamford Bridge, holds the key to Benitez's future. (© Daily Telegraph, London)