Mikel John Obi has dismissed Chelsea's current campaign in the Europa League as "Thursday nights, Channel 5" and said he hoped the club would be "prime time" again next season by ensuring qualification for the Champions League.
After Sunday's 2-1 win over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge Chelsea are in third place in the Premier League but only two points clear of Arsenal in fifth. On Thursday Rafael Benítez's team take a 3-1 lead to Rubin Kazan for the Europa League quarter-final second leg but Mikel is clear on the club's focus.
"I think for us and the fans, Champions League football is what this club has always been involved in and that is what we as players want to achieve," he said. "We want to be in the top four, top three, whatever. We want to be in the Champions League next season."
This season Chelsea became the first Champions League holders to go out at the group stage and Mikel has missed playing in the competition. "No disrespect to the Europa League but, when you saw that game on Thursday," he said, "it was a bit of a ... it's not ... when you get that buzz and you hear the Champions League song, it's different. We have been used to those special nights and we want to get them back. We want to be involved again in the Champions League next season. I don't even know the Europa League song. I have been here seven years and I have never played football on Thursday nights.
"It has been kind of frustrating to watch the Champions League. And we have to then play on Thursday night. What do they say? 'Thursday nights, Channel 5?' Hopefully next season we are not going to be in it. We are going to be prime time."
Mikel is not content with being rotated under Benítez. "It is hard," he said. "Especially if you think you are physically fit and you are in good form and then the next game, you don't play. This is the first time it has happened to me in seven years. It is hard to take but it's something that everyone has accepted since the manager came in. He said from the start that he was going to rotate the team. So we have to get on with it."
Chelsea's win over Sunderland made it three victories in a week for Benítez's side after they knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup then beat Rubin. Yet Mikel dismissed the idea that the Spaniard, who is unwanted by large sections of the support, is winning them over.
"I don't know about that but the fans have always supported the club and the players and they will continue doing that as long as we keep winning games," he said. "I think there is a chance for silverware. We have to keep going the way we are. We are in the FA Cup semi-finals [against Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday] and now in the Europa League, we have one more leg to play [in the quarter-final].
"We just have to keep doing what we are doing and keep playing the way we are playing, and hopefully, if we could get a piece of silverware this season, we will be very pleased with ourselves. This season is harder even than last year when we won the Champions League, especially in the Europa League. There are more games."