Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta insists they cannot afford to pin their Champions League qualification hopes on winning the Europa League despite falling off the pace in the race for the top four domestically.
A fourth away defeat in five matches in Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Everton leaves Maurizio Sarri’s side three points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal in the Premier League.
However, had they not dropped five points in their last two games against the Toffees and Wolves, Chelsea would currently be third.
Having got the easier side of the draw in Europe, facing Sparta Prague in the quarter-finals with the winners of Benfica and Entracht Frankfurt awaiting in the semis, it would seem that competition represents the Blues’ best chance of gaining entry to the Champions League.
However, Azpilicueta said they had not given up on a top-four finish.
“We missed a chance to get points and every time you don’t get the three points you put yourself in a more difficult position,” he said.
“There is still a lot of games to play and we are going to fight because we cannot miss Champions League qualification.
“I don’t see just the Europa League as the only way of being in the Champions League, because Chelsea’s place is not to be sixth in the Premier League so I cannot accept this.
“There is a way of going into the Champions League, it is a trophy, and we will play until the end but we are not in a position in the league where you can say we are not going to reach the Champions League spots.
“If we had won the (last) two games we would be third going into the international break and we could have said we were already in the Champions League.
“Obviously with five more points we could have been much better.”
Of greater concern for Sarri and Chelsea is the way the side capitulated under the first spell of pressure at Goodison Park after dominating the first half without scoring.
The manager voiced his worries about the mental strength of his players, highlighted by the fact only once this season in the Premier League have they recovered from going behind to win – the 4-1 victory over Cardiff in September.
“The reality is that the numbers are there. From 30 games only one we came back in the Premier League,” Sarri said.
“It is frustrating. It is not the first game where we played very well in the first half and we didn’t kill the game and then in the second half are in trouble from the first minute. That was the case against Everton.
“It is difficult to understand how we cannot keep the consistency during the game and in the season as well.
“We have had a couple of good results but we’ve had bad results and obviously that scenario puts you in a more difficult position.”