Guus Hiddink believes finishing in the Premier League’s top four is “almost impossible” for Chelsea following a 1-1 draw with Stoke City on Saturday.
Bertrand Traore fired the reigning champions into a first-half lead at Stamford Bridge, but Stoke equalised through Mame Biram Diouf five minutes from time.
The result leaves Chelsea in 10th position, 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City, who occupy the final Champions League qualification berth.
Hiddink thinks closing that gap is beyond them, though he is proud of how much the team have improved since his arrival in December.
“[The top four] is almost impossible, especially when other teams are also knocking on that door,” he said.
“On the other hand, we [have] come from one point off the relegation zone in December, and we got safe in a relatively short space of time.
“Going to the middle of the table, by Chelsea’s normal standards, is not enough.”
Hiddink criticised referee Mark Clattenburg for failing to award Chelsea a penalty when Marc Muniesa felled Oscar inside the box with the score at 1-0, a decision he felt played a pivotal role in the outcome.
“We conceded the late goal, that’s always frustrating. We started the first half sloppily and after 15, 20 minutes we got more energetic.
“We scored a beautiful goal through Traore, and in the second half I think there was one key moment – that the penalty was not awarded on Oscar.
“If you see it, it was a clear, clear, clear penalty. I don’t say that often, but it would have been given as a free-kick if it was outside the box.
“I think it was a key moment, but we must not say that Stoke were not pushing. At the end I think it was a fair result.”
The manager lauded Traore for his performance in place of Diego Costa – the Spain international missing out with a tendon injury – and believes the 20-year-old can contribute a lot to the team.
“You can see he has quality. Young players have to try and get control and dominate their nerves, which you saw in the beginning, but he showed with the goal he has the capacity to do a lot,” said Hiddink.
“We have some strikers that compete in a healthy way among themselves. If they show what they can do in training then it will be rewarded.”
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