David Luiz has claimed Chelsea can still transform a season of near misses into a success by allying a top-four finish – and with it qualification for next term's Champions League – with the club's first triumph in the Europa League.
Defeat by Manchester City in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final denied the European Cup holders a seventh potential trophy this term and leaves their hopes resting solely on Uefa's secondary club competition, a tournament Chelsea had not even entered last summer. Aspirations to defend the Champions League petered out at the group stage and they lost in the final of the Fifa Club World Cup and the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup.
A Premier League title challenge was not sustained beyond the turn of the year and the European SuperCup and Community Shield were both lost. And yet David Luiz has still sees evidence of progression this season and, should a top-four finish be achieved, improving on last year's sixth place, and another European trophy be claimed, the perception of the campaign could be altered. "There has been difficult competition and this season we wanted to win everything," said the Brazil centre-half. "Now we cannot win the league but we can still stay in a good position and win another European title.
"That is what we will work for. If we win the Europa League and get to play the Champions League next year, of course it's a success. There are some big teams in Europe who won't be winning titles this year, for sure, so of course it would be a success.
"What happened against City is disappointing but we can still take positive things from the game. I thought we did many, many positive things on the pitch. But when you play for a big club, you need to forget the last game and think about the future."
The immediate schedule brings a west London derby at Fulham on Wednesday, a game that should see John Terry, Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres restored to the starting lineup as the interim manager, Rafael Benítez, maintains his policy of rotation for Chelsea's 60th game of the campaign.
Chelsea have slipped behind Arsenal into fourth place and could find themselves four points adrift of Arsène Wenger's team if Arsenal beat Everton on Tuesday night, as they attempt to meet demands for a return to the Champions League.
Fatigue will be a factor in their run-in – they could play a further nine games after the match at Fulham, depending on their progress beyond Basel in the Europa League semi-finals – and the players acknowledge the effects of a draining schedule; the match at Craven Cottage will be their eighth in 22 days. Asked if the squad are tired, César Azpilicueta said: "That's the reality. We've played 15 games more than Manchester City and we'd played three days before the semi-final in Moscow.
"We're professionals and do our best to prepare for the games as best we can but, after a match, it's normal that we feel a little bit more tired than the other team. It's difficult but now it's the last month and the best games are coming along. We've played one semi-final, now we're going to play the Europa League semi-final. We're fighting for third place and to get into the Champions League. Now we need to be focused. We need to win matches and it doesn't matter the way to do it.
"At the end of the season we will look at the whole balance of the season [and judge it] but now it's one month of competition and it's important to be focused. We've wanted to win trophies from the start of the season, all of them, and now the only one we can win is the Europa League. We'll try and do that. But reaching the Champions League is also massive for us for next season."
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image: © Ben Sutherland