Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech believes it would be a major setback if the club fail to qualify for the Champions League – but not the end of their mission to conquer Europe.
Saturday’s goalless draw against Tottenham was the most damaging result yet in Chelsea’s bid to play in Europe’s elite club competition for the 10th successive season.
Goalkeeper Cech, who has starred in the Champions League for eight years of Chelsea’s nine-year unbroken run since Roman Abramovich’s takeover, knows how important the competition is to the club.
He is certain Chelsea would be able to react in the right way and set out to atone for missing out, but nevertheless admitted it would be a blow to miss out.
Cech said: “It is a year lost in the progression of the club. For a big club, you can accept that the team does not win the league because it is in transition.
“But you can’t afford to slip out of the Champions League spots, because the big teams are about the Champions League.”
Cech is confident Chelsea would not suffer the same fate as Liverpool were they to finish outside the top four.
The Reds have been nowhere near getting back in the Champions League since their last appearance in the competition in 2009.
Cech said: “Liverpool had so many problems within the club, not really on the pitch, so that is why they kind of lost some time. But this club has the structure.
“I believe that one season will make a difference, because it will slow down all the process of being a Champions League club and hunting for trophies, but it will not be the end of Chelsea, because I believe that we will come back.”
Liverpool also demonstrated in 2005 that finishing fifth was not a bar to qualifying for the Champions League, provided you win the competition.
But as Chelsea head to Lisbon today ahead of a quarter-final first leg against Benfica, that is arguably an even tougher task.
“The aim is never just to forget about the position in the league, and win the Champion League,” Cech said. “It would be great to do that, but the league and finishing in the top four is important for the club as well.
“We want to make sure that we will be there next season, somehow.”
Chelsea, who also have an FA Cup semi-final ahead of them, will have to find a way to close the five-point gap to Tottenham in their final eight league games, which include trips to Arsenal and Liverpool.
Cech said: “In terms of the Premier League, we have put ourselves in a difficult position. But there are 24 points still left, and that is a lot of points to play for.”