REECE LIGHTNING

A club as big as Chelsea can secure a place in the top five of the Premier League standings as they look to finish their season strongly with a rejuvenated form, captain Reece James said after their 3-2 victory at Nottingham Forest.

The West London club battled back from a goal down to seal the three points at Forest on Saturday thanks to Raheem Sterling’s 80th-minute equaliser and Nicolas Jackson’s winner two minutes later.

James, who played his first game in five months after hamstring surgery, made the assist for Jackson’s winning goal.

Injuries and a young team’s inconsistent form were blamed as the twice Champions League winners languished in the middle of the table, but Mauricio Pochettino’s big-money squad has shown potential in recent weeks, quickly climbing up the standings.

On 57 points with two games remaining, seventh-placed Chelsea are level on points with Newcastle United, in sixth place. The Blues trail fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur by six points.

“We’re finding a good level and staying consistent week in, week out. We are still young and during the season we’ve had a few off days,” James told the club website.

“But on the whole we’ve improved and we’re coming strong towards the end of the season.

“Europe is one of the highest levels in club football and we are one of the biggest clubs in football, so we want to be pushing each season to be knocking on the door for the Champions League. That’s our aim.”

Chelsea visit Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday and host Bournemouth on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Pochettino did his best to silence the rumours about his future with the West London outfit.

Pochettino had raised eyebrows a day earlier when he told reporters: “If we split it’s not a problem, it will not be the end of the world.”

Asked to clarify his comment, Pochettino sounded considerably more confident about his future with the club.

“I had an honest conversation in (Friday’s) press conference. To clarify, if the owner is happy with my job we can continue,” he said on Saturday.

“I am always a coach who is thinking long term. All departments must be happy for us to be a good team to compete. I still have one more year in my contract and I am thinking to be here.”

Chelsea are seventh in the table, fuelling hopes of a European berth next season.

They battled back from a goal down thanks to Raheem Sterling’s equaliser in the 80th minute and Nicolas Jackson’s winner two minutes later. Jackson headed home a pinpoint cross from skipper Reece James, who played his first game in five months after undergoing hamstring surgery.

James’ return to fitness – which also breathes hope into his chances of a place in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2024 squad – was a bright spot on Saturday, although Pochettino lamented his return came so late in the season.

“He is unlucky because we are at the end of the season and there are only two games left,” said the 52-year-old Argentine. “He can add his quality and experience.”

Pochettino blamed Chelsea’s place in the table on early-season woes. They are undefeated in 12 of their past 13 league games.

Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly had praised the team’s recent form earlier this week, telling a Sportico conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday that it is proof the club’s plan is “coming together” under Pochettino. – Reuters

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