Huddersfield secured their Premier League status with a valiant 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge which significantly dented Chelsea’s slim top-four hopes.
The Terriers drew at Manchester City on Sunday and claimed another point against City’s predecessors as champions after Laurent Depoitre stunned the hosts with an opportunist strike.
Although Mathias Jorgensen’s attempted clearance ricocheted in off Marcos Alonso’s face for a Chelsea equaliser, Huddersfield held on to survive ahead of Sunday’s game with Arsenal.
Chelsea’s bid for Champions League qualification goes to the final day at Newcastle. They must win and hope Brighton beat Champions League finalists Liverpool at Anfield.
Chelsea will complain about time-wasting and gamesmanship from Huddersfield, but they had chances. Antonio Rudiger should have scored twice and Jonas Lossl saved brilliantly to deny Andreas Christensen following a late goalmouth scramble.
Speculation is rife that Antonio Conte will leave Chelsea this summer, despite guiding them to the title last season. This was not how the Italian would have chosen to bow out if this is his last home match at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea had to do something City could not and find a way through Huddersfield. Patience was required of the Blues, perseverance from the visitors.
Conte made six changes following Sunday’s win over Liverpool, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois missing due to a back injury.
Like Conte, Courtois has 12 months remaining on his current contract and, with Chelsea unlikely to gamble on him leaving for nothing, the Belgian may have played his final game at Stamford Bridge unless he agrees an extension.
Willy Caballero was little more than a spectator in goal as the visitors sat deep with a flat back five, outnumbering restored striker Alvaro Morata.
Alonso had a shot parried by Lossl and next Rudiger missed a glorious chance from two yards out after Cesar Azpilicueta had headed a corner to the far post.
As Cesc Fabregas and Conte pointed out pre-match, too often this season Chelsea have failed to score, not just the strikers.
Morata turned a Fabregas cross goalwards on the volley, but Lossl saved, and the Spain striker next rounded the goalkeeper but found the angle too tight to shoot on target.
Rudiger spurned another opportunity, sending a free header over from Willian’s free-kick early in the second half. It was costly.
Willian was moments later tackled in midfield by Chris Lowe, with a hint of a foul which was not given. It was not the first time Chelsea were frustrated with referee Lee Mason.
The ball broke for Aaron Mooy, who floated the ball over for Depoitre to chase.
The burly Belgian beat Caballero to the ball and stayed on his feet as the goalkeeper tumbled in the contact.
Depoitre got the luck of the bounce and showed composure to prod the ball by the recovering Rudiger to spark celebrations from the visitors. It was Depoitre’s first goal since December 23.
Conte called for reinforcements. On went Giroud for Davide Zappacosta and then Eden Hazard for Pedro.
The equaliser owed more to good fortune than the super subs. Azpilicueta’s cross was met by Jorgensen, whose attempted clearance hit Alonso’s face and went in.
Still one point would be enough for Huddersfield to preserve their top-flight status.
The Terriers were under near constant pressure and Philip Billing tried to relieve it but dragged a shot narrowly wide.
A goalmouth scramble concluded with Lossl brilliantly pushing Andreas Christensen’s header on to the post.
The goalkeeper was booked for time-wasting before repelling Morata’s shot.
Chelsea repeatedly poured forwards, but found no way through, sparking jubilant celebrations from the visitors.