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Chelsea-Newcastle United Preview
Chelsea could secure an unlikely Champions League qualification berth when they travel to Newcastle on Sunday for their final match of the Premier League season.
Antonio Conte's Chelsea (21-7-9) appeared to have lost hope of a top-four finish, only to embark on a late surge that saw them win four on the bounce and put the pressure on Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in the race to qualify for Europe's elite club competition.
Wednesday night's 1-1 draw with Huddersfield Town ended that winning streak and saw Tottenham guarantee their spot in the top four, but Chelsea could still catch Liverpool this weekend with a win at Newcastle and a Liverpool loss against Brighton.
However, despite Liverpool likely being distracted by their appearance in the upcoming Champions League final against Real Madrid, Chelsea boss Conte isn't holding out much hope.
"It won't be easy because a Champions League place is not in our hands, but we have to try to get three points against Newcastle and hope for something positive for us," Conte said.
Missing out on qualification would be a big disappointment for last season's Premier League champions, but when questioned on it Conte was quick to point out that the club fared far worse under former manager Jose Mourinho.
"Don't forget two years ago, Chelsea ended the season 10th and not in the FA Cup final, not in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup and they were eliminated in the last-16 against PSG in the Champions League," Conte said. "It can happen. You must know that there is this possibility, because you play in a strong league."
Sunday's opponents Newcastle United (11-8-18) go into the match on the back of four straight defeats - a series of results that occurred immediately after the club passed the 40-point mark to effectively seal their Premier League status for another season.
However, Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez says it is important for the club not to forget what an achievement it is that they avoided relegation, and has urged his players to enjoy their final game of the campaign.
"As I have said so many times, it has been a great season," Benitez said. "I think, at the beginning, we were thinking that the target was to stay up. But we were safe five games before (the end), so that is amazing.
"I said to my players today that Sunday will be important. They have done so well during the season, they have to go to the end - especially playing at home - and try to finish on a high. I think they deserve that, and I think the fans deserve to see the team winning the last game."
Benitez will be without the services of the suspended Islam Slimani, while Ciaran Clark and Christian Atsu are absent through injury.
Chelsea have doubts over the fitness of Thibaut Courtois and Danny Drinkwater, while Conte could be tempted to ring the changes to rest some of his key players ahead of the FA Cup final clash next week.
Chelsea won 3-0 when these teams met back in January, making it three wins on the bounce for the Blues against the Magpies, with an aggregate score in that run of 11-2.
Updated May 11, 2018