LONDON • Antonio Conte has admitted champions Chelsea face a daunting challenge if they are to claw back the nine-point deficit to leaders Manchester City and retain their Premier League title.
A 1-0 victory at Bournemouth on Saturday ensured Conte's men did not lose more ground to Pep Guardiola's side, and the manager insisted the win provided a welcome boost for the London club's confidence ahead of the midweek trip to face Roma in the Champions League.
But the Italian warned of the difficulties that lie ahead for Chelsea in merely attempting to secure their position in the top four of the Premier League before setting their sights any higher.
"At this moment, we must be realistic by going game by game," said Conte. "We have 19 points and we deserve to have 19 points.
"We are first in our group in the Champions League.
"We went into the next round of the (League) Cup after going out in the second round last season.
"I'm very happy for this group. There are players who are very honest, players who want to fight until the end for something important."
As for remaining in the top four, he said: "Are we able to do this? I don't know.
1 Clean sheet the Blues have managed since Sept 23, which was against Stoke away.
"But we will try to stay there. I know very well that in England, in this league, there are six top teams, very strong."
Eden Hazard's 51st-minute goal settled the outcome of a game at Dean Court that Chelsea should have taken control of in the first half.
Blues striker Alvaro Morata pulled his shot wide with only Asmir Begovic to beat.
Then Tiemoue Bakayoko directed a free header straight at Begovic shortly before Morata thought he had made up for his earlier miss when he followed up David Luiz's shot, only to have the effort ruled out because Cesar Azpilicueta had strayed offside.
Conte admitted that his side must do a better job at finishing chances.
"We could have been more clinical in the first half," he said after watching his side fire 18 shots during the match.
"In this type of game, you must be able to kill the game. But tonight, we deserved to win.
"A good win for our confidence, a good win before another tough game against Roma in the Champions League."
Influential midfielder N'Golo Kante was again missing, but Conte was hopeful he would return for the Champions League tie at Rome's Stadio Olimpico.
In Kante's absence, Chelsea have conceded eight goals in five games.
Against Bournemouth, they managed a first clean sheet in seven games in all competitions since Sept 23, and held the hosts to no shots on target till the 92nd minute.
"I hope," Conte said of Kante, "he could be ready. But you know very well the importance of this player.
"I want to be sure he is ready.
"Honestly, I hope to have him in this game.
"But I'd prefer not to take a risk. If he's ready, he plays."