Antonio Conte has warned Chelsea they “don’t have a chance” of beating Manchester United in the FA Cup final if they serve up a repeat of their horror show at Newcastle.
The Blues’ Premier League campaign came to a humbling conclusion as their hopes of snatching Champions League qualification were dashed by a 3-0 defeat at St James’ Park on Sunday.
Speculation that owner Roman Abramovich could dispense with his Italian manager this summer remains rife, but Conte could yet end the season with silverware at Wembley on Saturday, although only if his players improve dramatically.
He said: “For sure we must change because if we think we can play a game like this in the final of the FA Cup, we don’t have a chance.
“But we have six days to change our approach, our desire, our will to fight. For this, I am the first person to answer because I am the coach of this team. After a game like this, I am the first person to answer for this bad game.”
The reverse on Tyneside, which came courtesy of Dwight Gayle’s 23rd-minute header and a second-half double from Ayoze Perez, condemned Chelsea to a fifth-place finish and Europa League football next season.
Conte said: “I like to play to win and this is my first season that I didn’t win the title, three with Juventus, one with Chelsea. When I start a season, I have always won.
If fifth place did not live up to Conte’s expectations, 10th was more than Newcastle counterpart Rafael Benitez could have dreamed of after a disappointing summer transfer window.
And owner Mike Ashley was quick to express his gratitude as talks over a contract extension continue.
Ashley said: “I would like to thank Rafa Benitez for his magnificent achievement this season. I would also like to applaud the players, led fantastically by the captain Jamaal Lascelles.
“On many occasions throughout the season, they have been described as a Championship side, which I personally consider to be derogatory.
“Rafa, as always, has my full support, and contrary to some media reports that portray me as a pantomime villain, I will continue to ensure that every penny generated by the club is available to him. I hope very much that Rafa will remain at Newcastle United.
“Finally, I would like to thank the fans for their unrivalled support of Rafa and the team throughout the season.”