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'Onus on stars to salvage Chelsea's season'

ROBERTO DI MATTEO has told Chelsea's players they have a "duty" to rescue the club's season as speculation intensified over Andre Villas-Boas' long-term replacement.

Di Matteo only took charge of his first training session yesterday morning after being appointed caretaker-manager until the end of the season.

But that did not prevent rumours continuing to circulate about who owner Roman Abramovich would turn to next.

Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are said to be the Russian's primary targets, but neither have commented yet on being linked with the job.

Former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, reportedly sounded out prior to Villas-Boas' departure, did break his silence, and although he refused to say whether he wanted to succeed the Portuguese, he gave a pretty good sales pitch.

"Before, people were more patient but now you have to win almost every week," Benitez said.

"I have experience in Spain and Italy and it is even worse there, after two or three games you are under pressure.

"I would like to have in the future a top side, a top club that can fight for titles and challenge.

"My experience is in the Champions League, to challenge and to try and win trophies."

Sven-Goran Eriksson, so famously courted by Abramovich when he was England manager, was not so coy despite now being a rank outsider for the job.

"I would take it, of course," he said.

Joachim Low's name was catapulted into the frame when the Geneva Tribune newspaper reported that Abramovich had met the Germany boss at a hotel in the Swiss city yesterday, although this was quickly denied by the club. For now, Di Matteo must somehow try to motivate a squad who reportedly have no more affection for him than they did for Villas-Boas.

The Italian tried to freshen things up by appointing his former Chelsea team-mate and assistant at MK Dons and West Brom, Eddie Newton, to his backroom staff.

The first task for Di Matteo and Newton is to navigate tonight's FA Cup fifth-round replay at Birmingham. "It has been a very difficult 24 hours for a lot of people at the football club," Di Matteo said.

"Andre has brought some very good, positive ideas and changes to this football club and we will benefit from his changes.

"Now, though, we have to focus on the next game, which is against Birmingham.

"Our duty now is to look forward and to try to get the results that we need to have a good season."

Addressing the Chelsea fans, Di Matteo said: "I am one of them, it hurts me to see our club in this position."