CHELSEA'S interim-manager Rafael Benitez insists nothing will deflect his focus from helping the squad secure a successful end to a turbulent season.
The Blues head to Middlesbrough tonight for their FA Cup fifth-round clash on the back of a 2-0 Premier League defeat at Manchester City, which saw them slip down to fourth place in the table – just two points ahead of Arsenal – after Tottenham's late win at West Ham on Monday night.
Benitez played down reports of a heated exchange in training between him and senior players, led by captain John Terry, as he insisted it was very much "normal talk", stressing his relationship with the group was "fantastic" and that they worked in a "really good atmosphere".
Despite all of the negative headlines, not to mention less than warm welcome from some supporters, since the former Liverpool manager replaced Roberto di Matteo in November, the Spaniard remains focused on the job in hand – even if it may only prove to be on a temporary basis until the summer.
"You are professional and you know, more or less, how things are going here in terms of what happens if you lose or win, but I have to do my job, which is to beat Middlesbrough tomorrow," Benitez said.
"I will be working hard until the end. 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, that is the main thing.
"They are clever enough and realise they will be here with long contracts, so they have to perform and be ready if they want to stay at the maximum level, for example, in the Champions League."
Chelsea have dropped 13 points out of 24 this year, winning just six of their 15 games in all competitions.
Benitez accepts if Chelsea are to hold off a late challenge from Arsenal or indeed aim to overtake Spurs once more, then consistency will be key.
"We have had a lot of very good games this year and we have a very good group of players. If we do the things we have to do, we can win against anyone," he said. "This team finished sixth last year. We have to fight now for the top three."
Benitez added: "We have played with quality and the lads are training hard, so it is not a problem.
"I like to talk with them every day, and they are all convinced we would finish in the top three."
To achieve that goal, however, Benitez knows his squad cannot afford many more below-par displays like they produced against City.
"We have had a lot of games we could win, and that was my point before, still we are very, very close to winning games," he said.
"If you go to the Etihad and know you will have a penalty and could score on two counter-attacks, you have to be disappointed.
"We did not play at the level we could play, and that is my concern."
Benitez added: "I can guarantee the players know what we're trying to do and believe in what we're trying to do, 100 per cent. The players are fully behind our ideas. I can guarantee that."
Terry has started only four of the 12 games since returning from his injury lay-off with a knee problem. The ex-England defender is stepping up his training regime, but Benitez insists squad rotation will be key to hopes of success over the final three months of the campaign.
"We progress in the Europa League, we have so many games, so we have to manage the team," he said.
"We had a specific plan for him (Terry), but sometimes he hasn't been able to finish the (training) sessions. But he is getting fitter with every session."