Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino said European qualification “would be amazing” for the Blues after turning around a difficult first season in charge at Stamford Bridge.
Pochettino’s men have won their last three Premier League games to rise to seventh in the table and put themselves in a good position to return to Europe next season. Chelsea are level on points with sixth-placed Newcastle and three ahead of Manchester United, plus a significantly better goal difference than the Red Devils, with two games to play.
A top-six finish will guarantee a place in either the Europa League or Conference League next season, while seventh would also be enough as long as United fail to win the FA Cup later this month against Manchester City. Chelsea won just three of their opening 10 league games as Pochettino wrestled with injuries and gelling together a series of inexperienced players.
But the Argentine believes his side’s curve is clearly on the up as they have lost just once in their last 13 top-flight matches. “The most important thing is to believe and I think the team is doing really well. In the last 26 games we have been doing really well and we need to keep doing it in this way. It is going to be tough but I really believe we can compete in the next two games, and having the possibility of playing in Europe would be amazing for us.”
Pochettino’s future as manager for next season had even been in doubt until recent weeks. But convincing home wins over London rivals Tottenham and West Ham was followed by a come-from-behind 3-2 victory at Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
“We are punished because of the first 10 games. If you start to count after our 10th game I think we are in the top four,” added Pochettino. “I want to be positive and I don’t want to talk anymore (about a lack of experience). From next season I don’t want to say that we are young, I want to talk about a different issue.”
There is further good news for Pochettino as a number of key players are returning from injury in time for Wednesday’s trip to Brighton and a visit of Bournemouth to finish the campaign on Sunday. Captain Reece James came off the bench to set up Nicolas Jackson’s winner at Forest, while forward Christopher Nkunku has made his return as a substitute in the last two games.
However, Pochettino does not expect either to start at Brighton. “The players that have arrived from injury need time and we don’t have time. We need to play and start games with players who can cope for 90 minutes,” he added. “We will see if the injured players can cope with some minutes (on Wednesday). We have the names and bodies, but they are not 100 percent to play and cope with the demands of the Premier League for 90 minutes at the moment.”

European football a ‘driving force’ for Newcastle: Howe
Eddie Howe said qualifying for Europe was a “driving force” for Newcastle as he prepares for today’s pivotal Premier League match against Manchester United. Howe’s men are sixth in the table, two places and three points better off than their hosts with two games to go for each team.
Chelsea are in seventh place on 57 points – the same as Newcastle. As it stands, the team in sixth place at the end of the season will earn a spot in the UEFA Conference League, the third-tier European competition. But if Manchester City beat Manchester United in the FA Cup final, the sixth-placed team would qualify for the Europa League and the side in seventh would enter the Conference League.
“Massive fixture for both teams,” Howe said. “It’s coming to the end of a long season for both clubs. We’re desperate to do well in the game, we’re desperate to finish as high as we can. We know European competition is there but it can also be a long way away if we don’t get the results we need.”
The Newcastle boss said his team were embracing the pressure after recovering from a poor start to the season and a damaging run of losses in December and January. Howe, whose team flopped in this season’s Champions League, said it was vital for Saudi-backed Newcastle to be in Europe.
Howe said he was anxious not to underestimate misfiring United despite their poor form as Newcastle seek their first league double against the 20-time English champions since the 1930/31 season.
Forwards Alexander Isak and Callum Wilson are doubts for the match at Old Trafford after suffering from illness and neither trained on Monday.
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