Antonio Conte has admitted there is a real possibility that Chelsea will miss out on qualifying for the Champions League because of the rise in quality of the other top six teams in England.
The 2-1 defeat at Manchester United means Jose Mourinho’s side have opened up a six-point lead over Chelsea and the Portuguese also pointed out that a “very good” English team will not finish in the top four this season.
Not that this is likely to pacify anyone in the Chelsea hierarchy, with last season’s champions now struggling to keep pace with the other main players in the Premier League power struggle.
Conte had briefly silenced the clamour over his future at Stamford Bridge, but with every defeat that debate reignites and he may well need to beat Barcelona in the Champions League to maintain a realistic chance of remaining in the job for a third season.
“We have to be disappointed with the final result,” said Conte. “I think we had a good chance to get three points against a competitor for a place in the Champions League, but at the end we are talking about another defeat.
“In these types of situations [when you take the lead], you have to manage the game better and you must be able, with experience, with maturity, to get three points.
“I don’t know if we will finish in the top four, but this [missing out] could be a possibility for sure. In this league, to find a place in the Champions League is not simple, it is not easy. In this country, this is the only championship that you can find six teams who start to fight to win the title and for a place in the Champions League. This is the only country to have this competition and there is this risk we will stay out of the Champions League.”
For Mourinho, there was the satisfaction of beating one of their main rivals for a top-four spot and he was full of praise for the way his team got back into the game after Chelsea had dominated the first half an hour and taken the lead.
“We managers always want perfection,” said Mourinho. “But you can only win against the top teams with that humble attitude. We can be speaking about tactics and positions and football science, but to win against the top teams the attitude has to be really special and the players showed that.
“I thought Romelu Lukaku played fantastically well. He had the same start as the team. The team didn’t start well or very confidently.
“The same happened to him. He was losing some balls. He didn’t find the right timing to be between the centre-backs, but then he got together with the team and he finished the game really well.”