Although Chelsea's expectations from the beginning of the 2016-17 season have changed quite a bit thanks to our amazing run in the Premier League, the minimum requirement for the season remains Champions League qualification. With a seven-point lead at the top of the table, that accomplishment seems all but certain at this point, putting last season 10th place firmly in the rear-view.
Head coach Antonio Conte, who has talked repeatedly about Chelsea needing to be and belonging in the Champions League, is happy to have the team on their way.
"We start our season to try to fight until the end to win the title, to try to fight until the end to be in the right position to go in the Champions League next season. This was our target but for sure it isn't easy and at the start of the season there were six strong teams to fight for the title, to fight for the Champions League."
"Don't forget, of these six teams, two won't play in the Champions League next season. So in this league it is very, very difficult to win the title, but also to find a place to play in the Champions League is not easy."
Conte himself has played in and won the Champions League as a player with Juventus, though it’s an honor that has so far eluded him as manager. He misses the competition so much in fact, that he traveled up to Manchester a couple weeks ago just to breathe in the atmosphere of a European night.
"I watched Manchester City against Monaco because I wanted to breathe the atmosphere again and to feel this type of game. For me and my players, I think the Champions League must be an appointment for us every year."
"The Champions League must be our home and for this reason we are putting all our strength into playing in it next season. It's a great competition for every single player, club and manager. We want to stay there and try to fight to win it."
Continuing to put our plans in motion, Chelsea will be in for a tough battle against local rivals West Ham tonight. As the Hammers were the only ones able to defeat the Blues during our 13-game winning streak earlier this season — albeit in a different competition — Conte is prepared for the challenge.
"This game against West Ham for us is very important. In the last game for sure they played their football very peacefully against us. Maybe it can happen again the same against West Ham tonight, but for this reason we are preparing for this kind of situation. It can be a really tough game."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
Even though West Ham will miss the presence of one of their key players and potential Chelsea transfer target Michail Antonio via suspension, the dangers presented by his teammates are very real. Chelsea must pay great attention to overcome the Hammers and not even give a glimpse of hope to our title rivals, like Spurs.