Juan Mata is confident Chelsea are ready to win their "second final in a row" this week and secure a place in next season's Champions League.
Victory against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday evening means Chelsea would be guaranteed to finish in the top four thanks to their superior goal difference. Spurs and Arsenal would then be left to fight it out for the remaining place.
Mata, whose 87th-minute deflected goal secured a crucial victory over Manchester United on Sunday to keep his side in third, said: "It was a tough game physically and mentally. We knew that it was like a final for us. We have two finals in a row: [at United] and on Wednesday against Tottenham. And I think if we win the two games we will be much closer than last week [to qualification].
"Tottenham is a team [who are] winning and winning: making pressure on us and Arsenal. So we are three teams fighting for two positions – and now we are third again. We play at home and I think if we win on Wednesday we will be almost for sure in the Champions League."
After facing Spurs, Chelsea's final two league games are Saturday's trip to Aston Villa and the visit of Everton on the final day. In between is the Europa League final in Amsterdam on Wednesday week. "If we are able to achieve the Europa League, and if we finish third in the Premier League, it will be a great season for us: winning a trophy and playing in the Champions League next season," Mata said. Fourth place would mean a play-off spot.
Tottenham will arrive at Stamford Bridge with Gareth Bale, the double player of the year, continuing his fine form, the Welshman having scored in five of his past six games including the winner at Southampton on Saturday. "For me Gareth is, right now, one of the best in the world," Mata said. "Not just in England, not just in Europe – in the world. He is able to decide a game, as he did [at the weekend]. He has the pace, he has the quality, he is strong, he is very young. So he is very good right now, and he has a bright future for sure."
André Villas-Boas will be making a first return to Chelsea since being sacked as manager last year. Mata believes the Portuguese should receive a warm welcome. "I think a nice one, because he tried the best he could for the club, and for me personally he was the man who I came with. So he gave me confidence, and I think he is a very great person as well," he said. "When I first came he gave me confidence, he helped me to settle down and, yes, I think he is a great manager, and a good person for me."
Mata believes that Rafael Benítez, who is unpopular with sections of Chelsea's support, has proved that he is a good coach. "Well I think he is. Of course he is," the 25-year-old said. "He won a lot of things in so many clubs, and now he has a chance to win in every game. So let's see at the end of the season."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Ronnie Macdonald