N’Golo Kante has warned Chelsea to cut out their sloppy second halfs as the Blues look to boost their bid to finish in the Premier League’s top four against Burnley on Monday.
Maurizio Sarri’s side advanced to the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday with a 4-3 win over Slavia Prague.
But what should have been a stroll into the last four after the hosts raced into a 4-1 half-time lead ended up as a tense finish when Chelsea let Slavia score twice early in the second half.
It is not the first time Chelsea have shown a lack of concentration after the interval this term, with Liverpool scoring twice in the second half to beat them 2-0 just days earlier.
Everton did exactly the same in another Chelsea defeat in March and France midfielder Kante admits his team can’t afford to continue that alarming trend if they are to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top four finish.
Fifth-placed Chelsea are behind fourth placed Arsenal on goal difference, leaving the west Londoners with no margin for error when Burnley visit Stamford Bridge.
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That gap will extend to three points if Arsenal beat Crystal Palace on Sunday, while sixth placed Manchester United could also leapfrog the Blues if they win at Everton on Sunday.
Chelsea’s target is to climb above third-placed Tottenham, who are just one point above them and lost to Manchester City on Saturday.
Insisting Chelsea are working to resolve those second half shortcomings, Kante said: “It’s just something that has happened many times this season and something we need to manage a bit better. But we still have to work on that.”
Chelsea are chasing a top four finish, but if they fall short, winning the Europa League would offer a secondary route into the Champions League.
And Kante believes completing that Europa League mission would turn Chelsea’s turbulent first season under Sarri’s leadership into a success.
– Beautiful end to the season –
“We can make the season beautiful by winning the Europa League,” Kante said.
“That’s the only title we can win now, so it would be great to win the Europa League.
“I think at the beginning of the game it was a good feeling to score three goals like this. The most important thing was to qualify.
“We’ll go into the semi-final with confidence and we hope to qualify for the final.”
Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard should be fit in time for the Burnley clash after coming off against Slavia with a second half knock.
Blues defender Antonio Rudiger is expected to miss out again due to a knee issue.
Burnley head to the Bridge with their Premier League safety almost secured and Clarets boss Sean Dyche is intrigued to see how teenage winger Dwight O’Neil copes with his growing reputation.
O’Neil has been linked with Arsenal, Everton and Newcastle after playing a key role in Burnley’s climb away from the relegation zone.
“He’s certainly in a balanced environment here, where I can’t see him running away with any outside noise,” Dyche said.
“He seems to be quite steady and enjoying his football. That’s what I want him to do, play with a smile on his face and enjoy the challenge.”