Antonio Conte claims Chelsea have no chance of an FA Cup final victory over Manchester United unless they improve quickly after questioning the desire of his players.
The Italian has demanded a vast improvement after a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle on Sunday ended a disappointing Premier League season which has seen last year’s title winners fail to qualify for the Champions League.
Conte’s side have a chance to atone for a below-par fifth-place finish – which condemned them to a place in next season’s Europa League – when they face United at Wembley on May 19.
In what is widely expected to be Conte’s last game in charge as Chelsea come up against former manager Jose Mourinho, the 48-year-old acknowledged his side need to up their levels in all departments to have any hope of clinching the trophy for the first time since 2012.
“We wanted to end the season in the best possible way, but we can do better than this,” he said.
“For that, I’m the first to answer for this bad game. Newcastle showed greater desire and fight, and if we play like this in the FA Cup final, we don’t have a chance.
“We have six days to change our approach, our desire, our will to fight, because we can do much better.”
Conte contradicted reports the Cup final will bring the curtain down on his two-year reign.
He has 12 months left on his current contract, and when questioned about his future, the former Italy coach added: “I have a contract, I’m committed and the club know very well the situation.
“Will Saturday be my last match? No, I don’t think it will be. The most important thing is the club, not speculation about me.”
Chelsea needed a victory at Newcastle to have any chance of fulfilling their slim hopes of a top four finish, but they were well below par, and ended with 23 fewer points than their title-winning campaign 12 months ago.
“To finish fifth is a big disappointment. How damaging is it not to be in the Champions League? You’ll have to ask the club about that,” Conte added.
Newcastle sealed an impressive 10th place finish on their return to the top-flight, thanks to two second-half goals from Ayoze Perez after Dwight Gayle opened the scoring before the interval.
Question marks also remain over the future of Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez, who is set for key talks with the club’s owner Mike Ashley in the next week to discuss his potential summer transfer budget as he looks to build on an encouraging campaign.
“That reception I received from our supporters at the end our supporters makes me really proud,” admitted Benitez, who was serenaded by 50 000 fans at the final whistle demanding he remains in charge.
The Champions League-winning former Liverpool manager ranks his achievement in guiding Newcastle to a top-half finish among the highlights of his glittering coaching career.
With a year remaining on his contract, Benitez added: “Maybe this achievement could be close to the top trophies that I’ve won.
“If we want to achieve something, then we have to understand what we need to achieve that. We have to sit down talk and see where we are.
“We have to be sure we do the right things. The fans have ambitions, we have ambitions and we need to know if everyone has the same feeling.
“We’re still talking, and we will see what happens.”