MANCHESTER, England, March 5 (Reuters) - Chelsea’s meek surrender in their 1-0 defeat by Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, their fourth loss in five Premier League games, has left them chasing the last Champions League qualification spot from behind.
But while there appears little cause for optimism among fans of the West London club, defender Cesar Azpilicueta insists there is plenty to play for in the final two months of the season.
Five points separates Chelsea, last season’s title winners, from fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur with the pair still to meet at Stamford Bridge on April 1. It is an unexpected position for the defending champions to be in, but one which is still retrievable says Azpilicueta.
“We are in a bad position at the moment compared with where we were five games ago,” said the Spaniard.
“We put ourselves in this position and we are disappointed for it, but we have to bounce back. We have a massive game on Saturday against Crystal Palace at home and we have to focus on the nine games ahead of us in the Premier League and try to get that Champions League spot.”
There is, however, little room for error.
After the Spurs encounter, games against relegation threatened West Ham United, Southampton, Huddersfield Town and Swansea City follow, matches where the Blues must pick up maximum points.
“We have lost a lot of games already and we don’t have space to make another mistake. We have to go game by game, try to win all of them and qualify for the Champions League.
“We know we can’t waste a chance to get the qualification through the Premier League. We have three targets to aim for this season, including the FA Cup, and we need to go for all of them,” Azpilicueta said.
Midfielder Danny Drinkwater agrees there is a real chance for the club to make up the points difference and finish in the top four.
“We need to get back on it. The quicker we do that the better. Gaps can close, positions can change and we need to make that change,” he said.
“We need to look at what’s available to us now points-wise. There are nine games left, 27 points, and stuff can still change. We need to force our way back into it.”
Next Wednesday, Chelsea have the daunting task of a second leg in the Champions League last 16 away to Barcelona, with the tie standing at 1-1 after the home game.
While that will require a huge turnaround in form for Antonio Conte’s side to progress to the quarter-finals, they also remain alive in the FA Cup where they will travel to Leicester in their quarter-final tie on March 18. (Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge)