Carlo Ancelotti insisted Chelsea are not out of the Barclays Premier League title race despite watching them throw away a crucial two points in their breathless 3-3 draw against Aston Villa.
But the Blues boss admitted the result, which left his side outside the top four, meant they must beat Manchester United in March to stand any hope of retaining the championship. Failure to see off Villa left Chelsea marooned in fifth place, six points behind United having played a game more.
"It's not over because we are improving and I think that we can say something again this season," he said, pointing out United had to win their game in hand to go nine points clear. "First, they have to win. Second, I think that the gap is not a light gap at this moment. But everything is open again."
He added: "Obviously, we have to beat them here, and we can say something again about the title."
The result put Ancelotti's position under fresh scrutiny after Wednesday night's ugly 1-0 win over Bolton had eased the pressure on the Italian.
At least Chelsea avoided defeat, a prospect that looked highly likely six minutes from time against a Villa side that had largely outplayed them.
Trailing 2-1 after Ashley Young's penalty and Emile Heskey's header had cancelled out Frank Lampard's spot-kick, the home side thought they had won it when Didier Drogba and John Terry found the net.
Terry's goal sparked wild celebrations as Chelsea's players mobbed Ancelotti, but the joy was short-lived as Ciaran Clark levelled in stoppage-time.
Ancelotti said: "I think that we had a fantastic reaction second half, we played very well, with a lot of energy, with a good spirit. And when we thought that the game was won, we lost two points at the last situation.
"For this reason, I'm disappointed because at this moment, when we needed to win, it was our fault because I think we were not able to maintain concentration until the end."