Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has sought to rationalise the defending champions’ poor season as he prepares his team for a final attempt at claiming a top-four finish. The Blues travel to St. James’ Park to face Newcastle United on Sunday before bringing down the curtain on 2017 /18 with the FA Cup final vs Man United next weekend.

Just two weeks back, computer simulations had Chelsea’s chances of finishing in the top four at a healthy 50-60%. Following Wednesday’s putrid display against Huddersfield Town, those chances have dropped to 15%. Those with a rational mind will easily concede that it is no longer feasible. For the extreme optimists, however, all hope is not lost. Not yet.

Not while both of these two things could still happen:

  • Chelsea managing to get a victory at St. James where they have not won since 2011.
  • Brighton beating Liverpool at Anfield, something that has not happened since 1982.

If all the above fails there’s still a third way:

According to the all-knowing computer, there’s a 2% chance of this happening. Antonio Conte, nonetheless, is nothing if not rational. That’s why in his pre-Newcastle conference, the Italian, while reiterating his desire to finish with a win, was keen to remind everyone that Chelsea’s top-four fight was no longer in their hands.

“It won’t be easy because a Champions League place is not in our hands, but we have to try to get three points against Newcastle and hope for something positive for us,” he said.

The former Juve boss also discussed how difficult the English top flight is, and how “unlucky” Chelsea have been in many games this season.

“There is this possibility of not taking a Champions League place because you play in a top league, a very tough league with six top teams,” he added.

“It can happen, and in the past, the same thing happened. It’s not automatic you play every season and finish in the top four.

“We have dropped many points. Against Huddersfield, we dominated and weren’t able to win. This season we have also been a bit unlucky. I don’t like to use this word, but if you see the home games against Huddersfield and West Ham, we lost four points. If you drop points in this way, you can pay.”

Conte: People are free to judge me

“We worked very hard for two years to try to build something and create a base. I think we did this, but I am the last person to judge the club at this moment. My task is to work and do my job in the best possible way with my players and for the fans. Then it is for other people to judge our position.

“Why do I have to judge my work? It’s not right. I think I have to work very hard with my players, and then other people can judge the situation and take the right evaluation of two years of work, and understand what position Chelsea are in in the panoramic of football.”

In terms of team news, Conte revealed that goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was back in contention following his midweek absence with a back injury. A welcome development bearing in mind Willy Caballero’s costly error vs. Huddersfield.