Antonio Conte/ AFP PHOTO / Ian KINGTON
Antonio Conte has urged Chelsea to take a significant step towards a top four finish in the Premier League by beating Stoke on Saturday.
Conte’s side know their chances of retaining the Premier League title are slim given Manchester City’s record-breaking run has left Chelsea 16 points adrift of the leaders.
But they have won their last six Premier League matches at Stamford Bridge and are currently just a single point behind Manchester United in second place.
Chelsea also boast a four-point advantage over Liverpool, the club directly below them, and Blues boss Conte is looking to maintain that advantage heading into 2018.
“In this league there is great motivation for all to try to stay there and fight until the end,” Conte said.
“I don’t know if we can do this for the title because it depends on Manchester City, who are doing something extraordinary.
“To win every game and draw one means you are having a fantastic run.
“But there is great motivation to find a place in the Champions League next year, there are four places for six top teams.
“Our start wasn’t easy for many reasons but we want to work and improve. There are many competitions and we must be very proud to play every game.”
Chelsea have struggled to replicate last season’s title-winning heroics, with Conte spending much of the summer in a bitter dispute with Diego Costa.
Costa was eventually replaced by fellow Spain international Alvaro Morata and the former Real Madrid man will go into the weekend with 12 Chelsea goals to his name, including a hat-trick in the 4-0 win at Stoke in September.
Conte is delighted with Morata’s contribution but is also mindful that this was his first experience of a hectic festive period, with the same applying to fellow new recruits Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko.
“It’s the first time they’ve played at Christmas,” he said. “It’s not simple but this atmosphere is great.
“During this period you have your parents, brothers, daughters with you and the family come to watch the game.
“It’s a busy period for us but it started in November and will continue through January and February.”
Stoke have not won any of the 11 games they have played at Stamford Bridge since becoming a Premier League club in 2008.
But four points from their last two games has at least eased the pressure on manager Mark Hughes.
The Potters are relatively safe in 13th place but are mindful there is only a three-point cushion between themselves and third-bottom Bournemouth.
Stoke midfielder Joe Allen is confident 2018 will be an improvement on this year’s struggles.
“We want to end the year on a great note and take that into next year,” he said.
“We’re hopeful we can be that much better. The feeling is that we have turned a little bit of a corner and let’s take that into next year.
“Hopefully, we’re starting to learn from our mistakes. We’ve been a bit slow with it. It’s been drilled into us, in all fairness, but the Premier League is unforgiving.
“You can’t lose your heads and start chasing games because teams pick you off and punish you.
“The signs are promising that we’ve learnt from that. It was a pretty positive feeling to come away with a point.
“We obviously wanted all three, but to go behind, in previous times, we might have folded, lost our shape and been run ragged but that didn’t happen.”