Roberto Di Matteo today admitted Chelsea's bid to finish in the Barclays Premier League top four would be all but over if they lose to Tottenham tomorrow.
Di Matteo's number one priority as caretaker Blues boss is qualifying for next season's Champions League and despite masterminding a remarkable turnaround in the club's fortunes since taking charge, he knows it could all be for nothing if Spurs win at Stamford Bridge.
Wednesday night's defeat at Manchester City saw Chelsea slip five points behind Tottenham, who themselves dropped to fourth place after drawing against Stoke.
Di Matteo acknowledged tomorrow's London derby was a game the Blues dare not lose.
He said: "Obviously, a win would give us a big, big lift. But, also, if we manage just to get a draw, I think we're still in it.
"If we lose, I think it will be very difficult afterwards."
He added: "Mathematically it is still possible so we will fight until the end but we are looking to have a good game tomorrow."
Part of the reason falling eight points behind Spurs is unthinkable is the nightmare fixture list Chelsea face compared to tomorrow's opponents and third-placed Arsenal.
Di Matteo, who refused to rule out a top-three finish, said: "Certainly, we have the most difficult schedule and fixture list until the end of the season compared to the other teams.
"But we have a good team, we have a good squad, almost fully-fit squad as well.
"We have all the resources that we need to be able to challenge for that."
Chelsea's prize asset is arguably captain John Terry, who Di Matteo declared fit today after the defender missed Wednesday's game with a calf strain.
"He's very influential for us in the team and we are very pleased that he's back," Di Matteo said.
Terry was outstanding in December's reverse fixture at White Hart Lane, where Chelsea managed to draw 1-1 despite Spurs being in red-hot form at the time.
The tables have turned dramatically in the last month, with Di Matteo overseeing four successive victories before Wednesday night and Tottenham taking only one point from their last four league games.
Di Matteo admitted he would look to exploit any lack of confidence in the Spurs ranks, as well as their miserable record at Stamford Bridge, where they have not won for more than 22 years.
The Italian also echoed goalkeeper Petr Cech's assertion that Chelsea's greater experience of competing in the top four gave them an edge over Tottenham.
He said: "In games like tomorrow, the experience factor will certainly play a role as well because they're the kind of players that are used to be playing under that kind of pressure in such games.
"It's natural for them."
But Di Matteo played down suggestions Spurs' slump might be related to manager Harry Redknapp being tipped to be the next England boss.
"I don't know how much that has influenced the team's performance," he said.
"Every team goes through a little difficult moment or period during the season."
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