(Reuters) – Chelsea face an uphill task to qualify for next season’s Champions League but the Premier League club will not give up the fight just yet, manager Antonio Conte said on Friday.
The defending champions are currently fifth in the standings with 57 points from 32 games and 10 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur who occupy the final qualifying spot for Europe’s elite club competition.
“It’s not simple. It will be very difficult to reduce this gap and to take a place in the Champions League but we must try to do this until the end of the season,” Conte told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s league trip to Southampton.
Chelsea have lost five of their last 10 league games and come into the weekend’s clash against Mark Hughes’ side on the back of a 1-1 draw against West Ham United at home.
“It’s difficult, we know this. But at the same time I think we have to try to put a lot in ourselves to try to get points and then to see what happens at the end of the season,” the Italian added.
Multiple reports in the British media have said goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois could leave Chelsea at the end of the campaign, with French side Paris St Germain among those interested in the Belgian international.
Courtois’ contract with Chelsea runs out next June and Conte said the matter would be dealt with by the club.
“We are talking about a really good goalkeeper but this is a problem to solve between the club and Thibaut,” he said.
Saturday’s clash against 18th-placed Southampton will serve as a rehearsal for this month’s FA Cup semi-final between the two teams.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge