Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel says he would be “stupid” to think his side can challenge for the title while he has so many players out injured and ill.
The Blues conceded a 91st-minute equaliser to Brighton on Wednesday, and Reece James and Andreas Christensen joined their lengthening injury list.
Chelsea are now eight points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Asked whether their title hopes are over, an exasperated Tuchel replied: “How should we be in it?”
The German manager explained: “We have seven Covid cases. We have five or six players out for six or more weeks. How should we compete in a title race?
“Everyone else who has a full squad, everybody in training has the full power to come through this league.
“We would be stupid to think we can do it out of Covid and injuries. Just play and everybody would be stupid to do it without 23 fit players.”
Asked whether the Premier League’s integrity had been undermined as a result of the differing Covid-19 situations of each team, Tuchel continued: “This is the reality, this is where we are and we have to adapt to the demands of the situation which you are in.
“I competed very hard for the win at Brighton at home. I don’t know what I can expect from my players in terms of physicality, intensity or minutes.
“Nobody knows any more because we have never done something like this. We play trial and error and see what we can do.”
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Injury worries pile up
Chelsea have won one of the past four league games, and Danny Welbeck’s 91st-minute equaliser means they have dropped 11 points from leading positions in the Premier League this season – one more than they did in the whole of last season.
They were four points clear at the top of the table after winning 3-0 at Leicester on 20 November. But the defending European champions will start 2022 out of form and with a host of players missing due to coronavirus or injury.
England defender James limped off in the first half against Brighton at Stamford Bridge, and Denmark defender Christensen did not appear for the second half.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (ankle) and Thiago Silva (hamstring) missed this game along with Ben Chilwell, who is to undergo surgery.
In addition, Timo Werner has not played since 11 December after testing positive for coronavirus, while N’Golo Kante came off the bench despite suffering a knee injury in the victory over Aston Villa on Sunday.
Chelsea’s next match is against Liverpool in a second-versus-third game at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
VAR decision ‘a joke’
Tuchel also hit out at referee Mike Dean for denying Chelsea a “100% penalty” and also a possible goal for Mason Mount during the frustrating draw.
The Blues boss believed Christian Pulisic was fouled in the box in the second half, while Mount rolled the ball into an empty net only to see play brought back for a foul.
“We have a 100% penalty against Christian Pulisic, a 50-50 challenge from Mason Mount right before their equaliser,” he said.
“Why does he even need to whistle before the ball is over the line? We have VAR to check. Is he so sure or does he want to keep the tension up?
“And the penalty, it’s a joke, honestly it’s a joke not to intervene from VAR.”