Gary Cahill (right)

Cahill backs Chelsea's quest for Champions League spot

Blues defender says teammates must rise to the challenge as they prepare for three vital games


Chelsea defender Gary Cahill has challenged his side to finish the season in triumphant style as they aim to qualify for the Champions League and win the Europa League in their last three games.

The midweek failure to beat Tottenham means Rafael Benitez's side must win at Aston Villa today if they are to go into the Europa League final against Benfica with a top-four finish already secured. Anything less could mean the trip to Amsterdam on May 15 is overshadowed by continuing uncertainty about their chances of playing in Europe's top club competition next season.

The odds are stacked in favour of the Blues, with the 2-2 draw against Spurs ensuring they sit third, three points ahead of Andre Villas-Boas's side in fifth, and two points clear of Arsenal in fourth. And while Villa have shown improved form to move clear of the bottom three, Benitez's side would expect to overcome a team that have struggled for form and confidence for much of the season.

Victory in their two remaining Premier League games - they play Everton at Stamford Bridge on the final day of the season - and over Benfica will mean Chelsea finish third, guaranteeing passage to the Champions League group stage, and again collect silverware.

It is a huge game on Saturday followed by the Europa League final, which is obviously massive. So we go again, and we are in a good run of results at the moment and decent form

"There are three games left in total and they will determine our season," England centre-back Cahill said. "It is a huge game on Saturday followed by the Europa League final, which is obviously massive. So we go again, and we are in a good run of results at the moment and decent form."

Chelsea's search for a new manager is attracting almost as much attention as their efforts on the pitch, with Frank Lampard adding his support for the return of former boss Jose Mourinho.

"I think it would be a great thing for the club," said the England midfielder, who has not been offered a new contract to remain at the club. "He is a successful manager and he would be a great thing for any club.

"It's hard to comment with the season still ongoing and with the manager not here or chosen yet. It would be easy to speculate," Lampard added. "But he is certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest manager in world football."

Villa have won five of their last eight matches, which has lifted them to 13th on 40 points and the verge of safety. And boss Paul Lambert insists Chelsea will face a different team to the one they thrashed 8-0 at Stamford Bridge in December.

"We're a threat, I think everyone knows we have players who can hurt teams. I'm pretty sure Chelsea will know we have guys on top of their game," Lambert said. "But we know it will be hard.

"The beauty of it is everybody apart from us and our fans expect Chelsea to win, because of the team they are," the Scot added. "The onus is on us to make the running and we're certainly playing well enough. We'll see if we can hurt them.

"The [8-0] defeat hurt like it did for everyone else. But the team never let heads go down, never wilted, kept going and now the fruition is there for everyone to see - we're playing really well."

Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov will lead out his teammates for the traditional lap of honour at the end of the final home game of the campaign, after announcing his retirement on Thursday.

The Bulgarian is fighting against leukaemia, and is currently in remission.

"For Stiliyan himself, the most important for me was for him to survive that horrible illness," Lambert said. "I'm delighted, first and foremost, that he's alive - he said that himself, that's vital. For him to go out and do this will make it a great occasion."

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Cahill eyes glorious Chelsea finale