Chelsea boss Antonio Conte believes finishing in the top four will mean they have had a successful season regardless of losing their Premier League title.
The champions head into Saturday’s game with Stoke City 16 points behind league leaders Manchester City, who have left the rest of the division trailing in their wake with their sensational form this term.
Chelsea are still involved in the EFL Cup and FA Cup and have a Champions League last-16 tie with Barcelona to come, leaving them a good chance of finishing 2017-18 with silverware.
But Conte believes their league campaign will be a success as long as they finish in one of the three spots directly behind City.
“I think, in this league, to finish in the top four will always be a successful season,” he told a news conference.
“This is the only league to have six top teams to fight every season for the title. And then there are only four places for the Champions League and two for the Europa League.
“But it’s normal when your competitors are doing so well, like Manchester City… it’s very difficult to think about fighting until the end for the title. But, at the same time, we must try to fight in every game, for the three points and to give satisfaction to the fans, and to give everything.”
11 – Manchester City have now won 11 consecutive away top-flight matches, equalling the record set by Chelsea in December 2008. Unstoppable. pic.twitter.com/1Qhl00dHN5
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 27, 2017
Conte has few injury problems ahead of Stoke’s visit to Stamford Bridge, meaning he could rotate his selection in order to save some players for the trip to Arsenal on January 3, while Charly Musonda and David Luiz are close to returns.
However, although the former Juventus boss enjoys playing matches over Christmas, he admits it would be useful to have a rest period after the festive season.
“All the players are available,” he said. “The same players from the last game are available, and about Musonda and David Luiz, they are improving a lot. The recovery is very close – I don’t know about the next game, but for sure against Norwich City [in the FA Cup].
“I think we have a game that is very difficult against Stoke City. As you remember well, last season, in the same period, we suffered a lot to beat them at home. I remember very well the game. We must pay great attention.
“I think we have to go game by game. It’s normal when you have to play every two days that I have to make rotations and give a bit of rest to the players playing every game. At the same time, all my players deserve credit and I trust in all my players.
“Personally, I’m very happy to stay here and work here, to have this type of Christmas period. I think to play during the Christmas period is great, great not only for me but for the players. You live a fantastic atmosphere. I’m enjoying a lot this type of situation.
“But, at the same time, I can tell you that, after this period, I’d like to have a little period of rest: for me, for the players. But not only for my team but for every team in England. And then to prepare for the final rush.”
One player yet to appear for Chelsea this season is Baba Rahman, who has been sidelined since February with a knee injury, and Conte admits he is not sure whether the left-back will stay beyond next month’s transfer window.
“This player is coming from a bad injury. A bad, bad injury. He’s struggling a bit to recover the best form,” he said.
“I must be honest, I don’t know what will happen with Baba. For sure, about the human aspect, I’d like to give him an opportunity. An opportunity to come back strong like before. He is showing great patience because he’s struggled a lot but, honestly, I don’t know what will happen with Baba. If I can help him, I’m ready to help him.”
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