Chelsea season not a failure even without Champions League football – Sarri

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LONDON — Maurizio Sarri said his first season in English football will not be a failure even if Chelsea do not qualify for next season’s Champions League through the Premier League or Europa League.

Chelsea currently sit fourth in the table, one point ahead of Arsenal and three ahead of Manchester United, their opponents in a Premier League showdown at Old Trafford on Sunday that could be decisive for both clubs’ hopes of a top-four finish.

Eintracht Frankfurt stand between Sarri’s men and a place in next month’s Europa League final, but the Italian believes his team can point to significant achievements even if they fall short domestically and in Europe.

Asked if he would consider this season a failure if Chelsea don’t secure Champions League football, Sarri replied: “No. No, we played a final [in the Carabao Cup]. We lost the final on penalties. We are in the semifinal in the Europa League. We are fighting for the top four.

“So the season, at the moment, is good. Of course we have two very, very strong targets: we want the top four in the Premier League and, at the moment, we want to go to the final of the Europa League. If we are able to get to the final, then we will want to win the final. And so I think the season is, at the moment, good.

“Of course, it’s a very difficult season. We lost in the wrong way two or three matches, so the feeling, sometimes, is worse. I think for this reason because we lost two or three matches in the wrong way, in a very wrong way, without fighting. But if you look at the season, we are doing well, I think.

“Of course, it’s only the first step. We need to improve more. We need to become competitive for the top. The first step, though, is good.”

Chelsea have a chance to all-but-eliminate United from the top-four race with a win at Old Trafford on Sunday, but Sarri’s men already missed one golden opportunity to tighten their grip on fourth when they were held to a 2-2 draw by Burnley at Stamford Bridge on Monday.

Sarri, however, insisted that his players did everything they could to win the game.

“I think we realised that the match was really very important, and we were able to fight in the match,” he added. “Of course, in the second half, we were not physically brilliant like in the first half. But it was the same, I think, for all the other teams who played in European competition during the week.

“As I said before, after 55, 56 matches, it’s really very difficult to be at the top physically, to be brilliant. But when you are able to score two goals in a match after a European match, you have to win. We conceded two very stupid goals, I think and so we paid at the end of the match.

“But we realised the importance of the match because we fought for 90 minutes.”