LONDON - Chelsea must win the Champions League to play in Europe's elite club competition next season after a 4-1 defeat at Liverpool on Tuesday ended their hopes of qualifying via the Premier League.
Stand-in manager Roberto Di Matteo made eight changes to the team that beat Liverpool 2-1 in Saturday's FA Cup final and they were picked apart by the rampant home side who gained some revenge for their Wembley disappointment.
With one match remaining, Chelsea are five points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and four behind fifth-placed Newcastle United, both of whom are in a final-day scrap with Arsenal to determine the Champions League qualifiers.
It is the first time Chelsea will have finished outside the top four since the 2001-02 season, although they could still grab a place in next year's Champions League if they beat Bayern Munich in the final on 19 May.
Should that happen, the team that finishes fourth in the Premier League would be deprived of a Champions League qualifying round tie and be bumped down to the Europa League.
Di Matteo said he had no regrets about making eight changes from his Cup final side for the game at Anfield despite his team beginning the night still in contention for a top-four berth.
"I have no regrets, the effort was there but we came up against an inspired Liverpool side," Di Matteo, who left out the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole and Juan Mata, told Sky Sports.
"We have had some very intense games, the last one three days ago. It's hard to keep getting yourself going every three days. Since I've been in charge we've played every three days and it's been a big ask and a big demand.
"I just thought with fresh legs and new energy we could have had a better chance tonight."