Gary Cahill insisted Chelsea still believe they will finish in the Premier League top four, despite their draw against Tottenham. Yesterday's goalless game at Stamford Bridge left the Blues five points behind their opponents with just eight matches remaining and in real danger of failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time since Roman Abramovich bought the club.
Roberto Di Matteo's four successive victories in all competitions after being appointed caretaker manager suddenly seem a long time ago, with the past five days having seen Chelsea pick up just one point from two league matches. More worrying was the fact that they were second best on both occasions ahead of a run-in that is markedly more difficult than Tottenham's.
But Blues and England defender Cahill said: "We have to be confident. Our form of late's been good. Obviously, we've got to win the majority of the games we've got left and we've got some tough games coming up. That's our target, that's what we're aiming for."
Despite the blip, Chelsea still have a Champions League quarter-final and FA Cup semi-final to look forward to, something that looked a pipe dream before Andre Villas-Boas was sacked this month. "Everyone was saying how a bad a season it was," Cahill said. "But we we're in a quarter-final, we're in a semi-final and we've still got a chance to push for that fourth spot. So, it's going to be a massively important period coming up for us, the end of the season."
Chelsea's top-four hopes would have been all but extinguished yesterday had Spurs not missed two virtual open goals in the Stamford Bridge sunshine. The second failure was thanks to heroic defending from Cahill, who recovered from being caught out of position to throw himself at Emmanuel Adebayor's finish.
"I was disappointed earlier on with my decision to step up," said the 26-year-old, who had scored in his two previous games. "So, to rectify that and to get back in, it's as good as a goal for me."
Cahill was made to wait for his Chelsea debut after his January move from Bolton but has now started ten of their past 12 games. "I'm happy with how things are going at the minute," he said.
"To try to settle in and play straight away to the standards that I expect from myself is tough and it took me a couple of weeks. But now, the last few weeks - as hopefully you've seen - I'm back to where I should be and I need to maintain that."
Yesterday was only the second time he and Blues captain John Terry had started together for the club and another clean sheet bodes well for a partnership that was first forged at international level. "Up to now, touchwood, it's worked well," said Cahill, who could nevertheless find himself out of the side for Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg at Benfica.
David Luiz has started all Chelsea's European games this season, while Di Matteo has been keen to rotate his squad during what is a nightmare schedule of seven games in 20 days. The Italian said: "We'll have to assess the team and see what the fitness level is and the energy level is of the players to try to put a team together that can play against Benfica and be very competitive. We have so little time between these games to recover, so you'll feel it at the end."
Cahill will certainly not be putting his hand up to be rested. He said: "I can't complain about the number of games that are coming up because, obviously, they're competitions that I've come here to be involved in. It's exciting and every game here's a big game at the minute."