LONDON, England, May 3 – Roberto Di Matteo admits Chelsea’s hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s top four are in tatters after a sublime brace from Papiss Demba Cisse fired Newcastle to a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
Di Matteo’s side gave a tired performance as their recent gruelling schedule finally caught up with them on Wednesday and Newcastle took advantage to boost their own challenge for a Champions League place.
Cisse opened the scoring midway through the first half with a ferocious strike and the Senegal striker wrapped up Newcastle’s best away display of the season with an astonishing dipping volley from wide on the left touchline in second half stoppage-time.
Chelsea are now four points behind fourth placed Tottenham and fifth placed Newcastle with just two games remaining and interim manager Di Matteo conceded that his team will probably have to win the Champions League final against Bayern Munich later this month to qualify for next season’s tournament.
“It’s going to be difficult now for us to reach fourth spot,” Di Matteo said.
“We are behind now. If we look back over the season, we lost many points in many places and that is why we are in the position we are.
“The league has been difficult but we will keep pushing until the end and won’t give up.”
Failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in owner Roman Abramovich’s nine-year reign would be a massive blow for Chelsea, who were beaten for just the second time in 17 matches under Di Matteo.
The intense demands of battling through to the Champions League and FA Cup finals, while also attempting to make up ground in the race for fourth place, finally seemed to take a heavy toll against Newcastle.
Di Matteo admitted his players couldn’t summon the energy to break down well-drilled opponents, but he believes they can still recover in time for Saturday’s FA Cup final against Liverpool.
“We have been pushing the players very hard for the last two months and they have given everything, but in the first half we couldn’t raise our tempo to where we needed,” Di Matteo said.
“We will regroup. We have a big final on Saturday, It will be a great game. The FA Cup final is a great event and the motivation is going to be there.
“We will pick everybody up and get them going again.”
While Chelsea are left to concentrate on two Cup finals, Newcastle boss Alan Pardew believes his team are capable of catching one of Tottenham and Arsenal in the battle to finish in the top four.
The Magpies, who are just one point behind third placed Arsenal, host leaders Manchester City on Sunday in a massive clash for both sides and Pardew is relishing the challenge.
“This is a special night for the club and it will be a special day on Sunday — a team challenging for the title against a team challenging for the Champions League. If someone had said that would involve us at the start of the season we wouldn’t have believed it,” Pardew said.
“It’s all to play for. We have got ourselves in a great position. We have got two games to go and the aim is to win both and see where it leads us.
“It’s not often you get a chance to break into the top four of this country.
“There is pressure on us, we are putting it on ourselves, but if we miss out it will still be a great year.”
Pardew, who revealed midfielder Cheick Tiote will be fit to face City despite being stretchered off following a collision with John Obi Mikel, also hailed Cisse after taking his tally since his January move from German club Freiburg to 13 goals in 12 games.
“The second goal was an astonishing strike. He just took a chance, but you could see he meant it. He hit it absolutely true,” Pardew said.
“His first goal was a great goal as well. He is in great form and you can see the work rate he has brought to the team.
“He was in our thoughts for a while and he had two great seasons in Germany in a team that was struggling so we knew what he could do.”