Chelsea captain Gary Cahill believes the squad must now “self-reflect” and brush the disappointing end to the Premier League season “under the carpet” as they prepare for the FA Cup final.
Following an upturn in form which at one stage looked like Antonio Conte’s men might just gatecrash the top four, the Blues saw their league campaign peter out.
The 1-1 draw at home against relegation-battlers Huddersfield on Wednesday night was followed by a disappointing final-day 3-0 defeat at Newcastle, who had already secured their own Premier League status.
Chelsea ended in fifth place, some five points behind Liverpool, and so will be playing in the Europa League next season rather than back among the elite clubs of European football.
Blues boss Conte has already warned his team “don’t have a chance” of beating United at Wembley to lift the FA Cup – in what well could be his last game as manager – if they fail to produce an improved display.
Defender Cahill is confident the players have it within themselves to regroup and end what has been a largely frustrating campaign with a trophy.
“It’s time to self-reflect. Prior to Huddersfield we were in great form. We have to try and brush it under the carpet,” Cahill told Chelsea’s website.
“That’s not an excuse, any other time I wouldn’t be saying that, but we have a massive week now to prepare for a cup final which is very important for us.”
A rapid second-half double from Ayoze Perez added to Dwight Gayle’s 23rd-minute opener as Chelsea came up short on Tyneside.
Cahill accepted too many Chelsea players had taken their eye of the job in hand.
“It was a below-par performance by ourselves,” he added. “For whatever reason, we were way off the pace.
“There were individual mistakes here, there and everywhere which was putting us under extreme amounts of pressure. That’s not in our make-up.
“It looked to me like everyone had one eye on the cup final, which is very dangerous.
“We are very lucky that the game was somewhat irrelevant in the end as Liverpool won, because if we had come off that pitch with that performance having thrown a Champions League spot away, it would have been extremely hard to take.”