Antonio Conte last night admitted that there is a real danger Chelsea will be without Champions League football next season following their humiliating home defeat against Bournemouth.
Conte’s toothless side were picked apart in 16 staggering second-half minutes as Callum Wilson, Junior Stanislas and former Blues defender Nathan Ake all scored to stun the Premier League champions.
The remarkable 3-0 defeat saw the Blues drop to fourth – behind Liverpool on goal difference – and just two points clear of rivals Tottenham following their comprehensive win against Manchester United.
“We must be worried [about finishing in the top four],” Conte said. “It will not be easy. I am repeating what I have said since the start of the season.
“We have to fight. We must be prepared to fight and we must be ready. I think the players are starting to understand that this season we are going to struggle for a position in the Champions League.
“If we want only to dream and not see the reality, in this case I could tell you we can fight to win the title this season. But it is important to look at the reality and to know that it will be a great success to reach a place in the Champions League.”
Olivier Giroud completed his 18-month move from Arsenal earlier on Wednesday, but despite taking his seat behind the Chelsea dugout, the France international was unavailable.
And following Michy Batshuayi’s deadline-day loan switch to Borussia Dortmund, and the absence of the injured Alvaro Morata, Conte was left without a recognised centre-forward.
Eden Hazard was called upon to lead the line, but the Blues failed to create any clear-cut chances, and Bournemouth – who until Wednesday evening had never scored three on the road against a side from the Premier League’s so-called ‘top six’ – were good value for their emphatic win.
“I think about the pressure and it is normal for a coach and manager,” Conte added. “It is normal if you are Chelsea’s coach.
“We are doing everything and giving 120 per cent, and I am approaching this squad at their maximum level, but if someone does not agree that I am here then you have to accept every situation. I am relaxed about this because I know I am doing a great job.”
For Bournemouth, Eddie Howe’s side are now unbeaten in six league matches, and their victory, which will surely rank as one of the finest in their history, fires them to 10th, five points clear of safety.
Asked if this was the greatest result of his managerial career, Howe replied: “This is the best because of the performance.
“When we won here at Stamford Bridge in our first season in the Premier League, it was a great moment and an historic night but we were backs to the wall and we rode our luck.
“I don’t think there was any luck connected with today. It is the best performance that we have had at this level and the result has matched it.”