Chelsea's failure to qualify for next season's Champions League was confirmed as they completed a disappointing Premier League campaign by collapsing to a dismal 3-0 defeat at Newcastle United on Sunday.
It will be midweek Europa League expeditions from September, not the more luminous Uefa Champions League that a club of Chelsea's status, wealth and prestige would regard as their natural entitlement.
It was a superb finish to an encouraging first season back at the highest level and left Benitez's men inside the top-half of the table and just 10 points off Burnley who took the final European spot for next season. "It certainly doesn't mean he's a bad manager if it doesn't work out here, that's Chelsea's model and it works for them".
The Spaniard has a strained relationship with club owner Mike Ashley, but the former Liverpool, Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager gave the clearest indication yet that he is willing to see out the remaining year on his contract at St James' Park. Kenedy will be the only player to miss out as he is ineligible to play against his parent club, Chelsea.
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Harry Kane became the second Premier League player to score 30 goals this season, as Spurs trailed 1-0 and 3-1. That all stemmed from Conte; dressed head to toe in a Chelsea tracksuit rather than his once trademark suave suit, he stood still on the edge of his technical area, nearly shrugging his shoulders with every Newcastle attack.
But another 12 months on, Blues fans are feeling off-colour once again. Hazard was completely ineffectual, as was Giroud; Tiemoue Bakayoko, who has endured a really tough debut Premier League season, best summed up a dismal day with a lethargic performance.
Asked to assess the damage, Conte said: "I think I'm the last person to speak about this".
In a statement issued a little more than two hours after the final whistle, the sportswear tycoon said: "I would like to thank Rafa Benitez for his magnificent achievement this season".