Petr Cech has warned of a "lost" year at Chelsea if they fail to qualify for the Champions League.
Sunday’s goalless draw against Tottenham was the most damaging result yet in the Blues’ bid to play in Europe’s elite club competition for the 10th successive season.
Goalkeeper Cech, who has starred in the Champions League for eight years of Chelsea’s nine-year unbroken run since Roman Abramovich’s takeover, admitted their entire season would have been a waste if they do not finish in the top four.
He said: "It is a year lost in the progression of the club.
"For a big club, you can accept that the team does not win the league because it is in transition.
"But you can’t afford to slip out of the Champions League spots, because the big teams are about the Champions League."
However, Cech was confident Chelsea would not suffer the same fate as Liverpool were they to finish outside the top four.
The Reds have been nowhere near getting back in the Champions League since their last appearance in the competition in 2009.
Cech said: "Liverpool had so many problems within the club, not really on the pitch, so that is why they kind of lost some time.
"But this club has the structure.
"I believe that one season will make a difference, because it will slow down all the process of being a Champions League club and hunting for trophies, but it will not be the end of Chelsea, because I believe that we will come back."
Liverpool also demonstrated in 2005 that finishing fifth was not a bar to qualifying for the Champions League, provided you win the competition.
But that is arguably an even tougher task.
"The aim is never just to forget about the position in the league, and win the Champions League," Cech said.
"It would be great to do that, but the league and finishing in the top four is important for the club as well.
"We want to make sure that we will be there next season, somehow."
To do that, Chelsea will have to find a way to close the five-point gap to Tottenham in their final eight league games, which include trips to Arsenal and Liverpool.
All that while juggling a nightmare schedule containing a Champions League quarter-final against Benfica, a possible semi-final against Barcelona or AC Milan, and an FA Cup semi-final.
Cech said: "If we manage to get through to the semi-final of the Champions League, we will have a crazy calendar with a lot of games.
"It’s good in a way because it means that you are in the hunt for trophies.
"In terms of the Premier League, we have put ourselves in a difficult position.
"But there are 24 points still left, and that is a lot of points to play for.
"In that period, you could overcome a five points deficit, but you need to make sure that you win all your games or the majority of them and the other teams slip."
He added: "The good thing is that we don’t have many injuries. We have been rotating the squad, which is something which will help us in the end.
"There are so many games coming in two, three days all the time that we need to make sure that we recover well. That is the most important task."
Branislav Ivanovic is expected to be fit for Tuesday’s first leg at Benfica (live on FOX Soccer, Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET) after missing yesterday’s game with a thigh problem.