Thomas Tuchel felt Reece James’ performance against Manchester United underlined his importance to Chelsea.
The injury-plagued James was excellent on his return to the side, crossing for Marcos Alonso to score in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
And Blues boss Tuchel believes the absence of players such as James for much of the season has been a key factor in the team not sustaining a title challenge.
Tuchel said: “When I see Reece James play and at the same time know that we missed him for 12 weeks then I’m very impressed that we are still in the top three and were so close to reaching the semi-final of the Champions League and have reached finals in both cups.
“You see the amount of quality that was missing and other key players are missing. This is the story of the season.
“Liverpool and Man City have had full squads and we have struggled with injuries.”
Chelsea had to settle for a point despite being on top for much of the game against a poor United side.
“I am very happy with the performance. It was a huge team-effort,” Tuchel said.