LONDON Chelsea will be more equipped to challenge for the Premier League title next season but will push Arsenal and Manchester City all the way in this campaign, manager Jose Mourinho said on Tuesday.
Mourinho's side should maintain the pressure on the top two when they host struggling West Ham United on Wednesday although the Portuguese is playing down his side's hopes of finishing above them in May.
"The chance of champagne in the future is good but not this season," he told a news conference on Tuesday while marking his 51st birthday two days late by sharing some bubbly with reporters.
"We have to try to keep our good form going and let things happen naturally. Our main objective this season is to build a team.
"I can imagine next season we are going to be really strong. This season we are in the competitions and we always want to win."
Third-placed Chelsea, who have sold Spain midfielder Juan Mata to Manchester United and brought in Egyptian youngster Mohamed Salah from Swiss team Basel in the last week, are one point behind City and two adrift of Arsenal.
Chelsea travel to City on Monday and Mourinho says it is vital the Blues stay in touch by beating a West Ham side desperately trying to avoid relegation.
"We need to play against City with something to play for, not 10 points behind, and we should be one or two points from them," Mourinho said.
"I see a difficult match against West Ham. New players, fewer injuries, time to work and rest after a difficult Christmas period."
Chelsea will again be without injured striker Fernando Torres but Mourinho believes Samuel Eto'o is hitting top form after his recent hat-trick in the 3-1 victory over Manchester United.
"Samuel's contribution to the quality of the team is very high and he is playing very well," the manager said before adding that he would not rule out a new deal for the Cameroonian next season.
Salah will not feature against West Ham but fellow new recruit Nemanja Matic could occupy one of the two holding roles in midfield.
Neither can play in the Champions League this season and Mourinho said they are ones for the future.
"At the moment we have a 21-player squad which is exactly the number we want to have," he explained.
"With the natural improvement every big club has of bringing in one or two players, we are signing players for the future so I think we are doing well."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)