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Essien urges Chelsea to keep faith with Conte

Football
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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Chelsea players should share blame if Blues miss out on Champions League - Conte

Antonio Conte paid tribute to former Chelsea coach and captain Ray Wilkins after their 1-1 draw with West Ham, describing him as a legend and an ambassador of football.

LONDON -- Antonio Conte claimed that Chelsea's top players have an obligation to consider staying to help the club get back into the Champions League if they miss out on a top-four finish this season.

Chelsea lie fifth in the Premier League with six matches remaining, 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham, and are bracing themselves for a second season outside Europe's elite club competition in the last three years.

The potential setback comes at the beginning of a vital summer at Stamford Bridge. Conte is expected to leave after months of tension with the Chelsea hierarchy over transfer strategy, while Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois are both attracting significant interest from Real Madrid.

Conte, however, believes everyone at Chelsea must accept blame if Champions League qualification proves elusive and, as part of that bargain, players may feel a duty to stay and return the club to the top level of European football.

"For sure, if we don't qualify for the Champions League, it means that we have to divide the fault, also with the players," he said.

Antonio Conte wants Chelsea's stars to consider staying at the club even if they don't qualify for the Champions League.

"If you are not able to take a qualification [spot] for the Champions League, and then you must consider playing next season without Champions League and to stay here and fight for this club.

"I think this is not the first time. Two years ago [in 2015-16, when Chelsea finished 10th in the Premier League], this happened the same. I didn't see many players going away from this club then."

Asked if Chelsea's players would owe it to the club to stay and rectify the situation, Conte replied: "I think this is not my job. There is a club to speak about this situation, with me, with the players. I think this is a job for the club."

Chelsea's best hope of ending this season on a high now lies with the FA Cup. Saturday's match against Southampton at St Mary's doubles a dress rehearsal for the semifinal that will take place between the two clubs at Wembley later this month, though there appears little else at stake for the Blues.

Conte, however, dismissed the suggestion that his players could lose interest in their remaining Premier League matches as a result of their situation.

"I don't think so," he added. "I think that everyone has to find in himself the right desire, the right will to fight. Also because there are six games to go and we have a game in the FA Cup, a semifinal. A possibility then to play in the final for the second year in a row.

"Everyone has to find the right concentration, the right will, the right desire to finish the season as strongly as possible. We must do this, and I'm sure that everyone wants to do this."

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