Much of the talk as Chelsea’s league season draws to a close has been about the need to gain a top-four finish. The target within the camp has long been set higher.
One fundamental difference between fourth and third in the Premier League is the former earns a place in the qualifying round for the Champions League while the latter puts a team straight into the group stage. That fact, plus the pride in finishing as high as possible, especially when local rivals Arsenal and Tottenham are involved, is not lost on the squad.
‘This is our aim,’ confirms Branislav Ivanovic.
‘Maybe the top four was the minimum expectation before the season, and when we started it well we play all of it to be in the top three.
‘We have to stay focused until the end and we will try to be. For us it will be better to be in third position and we have a good chance of the four points that should secure this position.’
With two league games left to play for all three London clubs vying for the Champions League positions, we currently have a two-point advantage and marginally superior goal difference to Arsenal. The lead over Spurs is three points and it is hugely unlikely they could surpass us on goal difference.
There is little margin for error and since Ivanovic made his debut near the start of the 2008/09 campaign, Chelsea simply haven’t had dull ends to the season.
That first year ended with an FA Cup win, and the following season we were back at Wembley to complete a league and cup double. The 2010/11 campaign there was no cup final but our ultimately unsuccessful title challenge lasted until the third from last game. Last season’s climax is easy to recall.
‘It has been very exciting,’ says Ivanovic. ‘This season when you look at us in some games, how we played, you know this squad has good performances in us. Our problem is to be consistent and to win sometimes when you are not playing well.
‘But we are always looking for a lot of trophies and that is why we always have an interesting season. I hope we will finish well again because we have the chance to finish with another trophy.’