Chelsea have a golden opportunity to pile pressure on Tottenham in the race to qualify for the Champions League when the Blues face struggling Swansea on Saturday.
Antonio Conte’s side travel to the Liberty Stadium boosted by clinching a place in the FA Cup final against Manchester United after beating Southampton last weekend.
Fourth-placed Tottenham stand between fifth placed Chelsea and a return to the Champions League next season, making victory in south Wales essential for the deposed champions.
Chelsea are five points behind Tottenham, but their north London rivals don’t play until Monday’s clash with Watford, so the Blues have a chance to cut the gap to two points at least for 48 hours.
Winning the FA Cup and finishing in the Premier League’s top four would be a satisfactory end to a turbulent season for Chelsea.
But it might not be enough to keep Conte in his job amid widespread reports that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is willing to part ways with the Italian after he repeatedly feuded with the club’s hierarchy over their failure to back his transfer plans.
Conte has looked increasingly unhappy with life in west London in recent months and has constantly moaned about a lack of decisive spending in the transfer market – the one thing that never used to be a problem in Abramovich’s early years at the helm.
Conte is unlikely to be out of management for long if he does go but will also know that there is no shortage of candidates to replace him.
Maurizio Sarri of Napoli has been touted as the front-runner, with Juventus’s Max Allegri and Leonardo Jardim of Monaco also mentioned blue-chip alternatives.
Former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique is also an alternative to pedigree, and would not require any compensation negotiations as he is a free agent.
All of this is of little concern to Swansea, whose only focus is finishing the season no lower than their current position of 17th, which would be sufficient for another season in the top flight.
Carlos Carvalhal saw Swansea, currently four points above the relegation zone, comprehensively beaten 5-0 at champions Manchester City last week.
Asked if there were any mental scars from that hammering, Carvalhal said: “We don’t remember about that, it is finished after the game.
“We never talked about it and it has happened to other teams there.
“Listen, between Manchester City and Chelsea it is 27 points difference, even though they are playing for the same goal. So this game has no effect – zero.”
Carvalhal hopes home advantage will give Swansea better odds against the team that has just relinquished the title, however.
“We understand they are a good team, it is David against Goliath again but at the Liberty, we have good support from the fans, they were fantastic against Everton, and our players grow up and are bigger at home,” he said.
“They have great players, a good manager, but we are in a period where we have to make our presence felt.”–AFP