Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has admitted that the reigning Premier League champions face a challenge to finish in the top four this season as there as too many 'top teams' competing for too few Champions League places.
Chelsea lost ground over the weekend following a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of a struggling West Ham and just four points separates them in third place from sixth place Spurs.
"There's a problem in this league. There are six top teams and there are only four places for the Champions League and two places for the Europa League," Conte is quoted as saying by the Daily Telegraph following the weekend's results.
The Chelsea boss already appears resigned to the fact that his team will fail to defend their title after Manchester City's runaway start and is now focused solely on a top four place, even prioritising qualifying for next season's Champions League over competing in this season's.
"You have targets, also if Manchester City has many points over you, you have an important target to try to get into the top four and play in the Champions League. Don't forget, two years ago Chelsea missed this target, last season we didn't play European games," he explained.
"Our priority is to play the league. I repeat, we have our target to try to play for one of the four places in next season's Champions League. This target is very important for me, for the players and for all. I repeat, it is not simple to reach the first four positions."
Having secured progress from the Champions League group, Chelsea await the identity of their first knockout round opponent with the 15 other qualifiers.
Spurious gossip from Don Balon in Spain has it that the Conte will be sacked as soon as the Stamford Bridge club are eliminated from Europe, with ex-Barcelona coach Luis Enrique allegedly already lined up to take his place in west London.