Maurizio Sarri insists Chelsea can still finish in the Premier League’s top four after Eden Hazard’s late strike rescued a 1-1 draw against Wolves on Sunday.
Sarri’s side were seconds away from another damaging defeat after Raul Jimenez put Wolves ahead at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard spared the under-fire Sarri’s blushes with his thunderous stoppage-time equaliser, but it was still a frustrating day for the Blues boss.
Sarri’s side had won three times in 10 days to temporarily silence reports that the Italian was facing the sack.
But Chelsea’s latest misfiring effort raised the possibility that Sarri is back on borrowed time in west London.
With fourth-placed Manchester United playing fifth-placed Arsenal later on Sunday, Chelsea, languishing in sixth, will be further adrift of the top four after another tense afternoon for Sarri.
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Yet Sarri is adamant qualification for next season’s Champions League remains entirely possible.
“When you have to play only 10 matches, every match you’re not able to win is a missed opportunity,” Sarri said.
“But in the last six matches, we won four matches and drew the other two. So there is a little consistency in this moment.
“We have one match in hand, so we have to be confident.”
Although Hazard had salvaged a point for Sarri, his manager still wasn’t satisfied with his performance.
“Hazard is a great player who can solve the situation in any moment, but during the match he was like the other players,” he said.
“He needs more movement without the ball, not only when he has the ball at his feet. This was the same for all the players today.”
It has been a nightmare debut season for former Napoli boss Sarri, who had to endure a League Cup final defeat against Manchester City in which Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted.
Beating Tottenham and Fulham in the league and then easing past Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League last 16 first leg on Thursday had given Sarri some breathing space.
But Wolves have proved a thorn in his side this season and, after beating the Blues 2-1 at Molineux in December, they left the Italian looking over his shoulder anxiously again.
– Uninspired –
Not for the first time, Sarri had to defend Jorginho after the unpopular midfielder’s second half substitution was applauded by Chelsea fans.
“Jorginho, if the other players don’t move without the ball, is in trouble,” Sarri said.
“He is a very strong character and a professional player.
“It’s not easy, of course, because the problem wasn’t the system, but our way of playing. We need to move the ball faster.”
Despite all their possession, Chelsea lacked a cutting edge in a creatively uninspired display that was a return to the problems they have endured for much of the season.
A monotonous procession of slow, sideways passes brought no reward against Wolves’ massed defence, triggering jeers from frustrated Chelsea fans at half-time.
Having soaked up Chelsea’s futile attempts to break them down, Wolves sprang out to snatch the lead with a perfectly executed counter in the 56th minute.
Breaking from their own area, Wolves exploited the out of position Chelsea defence as Jimenez flicked a pass to Diogo Jota.
Jota ran wide before guiding the ball back into Jimenez, who prodded home via a deflection off Cesar Azpilicueta for his 14th goal this season.
Gonzalo Higuain tried to lead the Chelsea response with a shot on the turn, but Rui Patrico saved before Pedro’s long-range effort was pushed over by the keeper.
Higuain couldn’t stretch far enough to score when Hazard’s corner was deflected into his path.
Willian’s low strike was repelled by Patricio as Chelsea pushed for the equaliser.
With just moments left, Hazard at last ended Wolves’ stubborn resistance with a fierce long-range drive that flashed past Patricio for his first goal in seven games.