Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel believes as many as five teams will be vying for the Premier League title next season.
The Blues secured a third-placed finish for the 2021/22 campaign with a 2-1 victory over relegated Watford on the final day of the season, courtesy of a late winner from substitute Ross Barkley.
However, while Champions League qualification is satisfactory, Chelsea had led the Premier League in the early months of the season in what had been a three-horse race, but fell away dramatically over the winter period and ultimately finished 19 points behind champions Man City.
Speaking after the Watford win, Tuchel admitted Chelsea could not match the consistency of the runaway top two, City and runners-up Liverpool.
"It is in general a big step in the general direction in terms of consistency for us," he said. "If you look at the last year we have only been in the top three, this is very good. But there is always room for improvement. The level of consistency from City and Liverpool was too much for us, it was too high.
"It will not get easier to close this gap, because while we are forced to be passive they are improving their squads. But this is the challenge, and we need to be fast and smart when it's possible to have a competitive team."
Tuchel does not believe things will get any easier next season either, with the German predicting that two other clubs would be resurgent and challenging for the title.
"It will be a super tough race," he continued. "Manchester United will be in the race and Tottenham will be in the race with Antonio Conte for sure.
"We want to stay in the race and Liverpool and Man City do everything to make their squads bigger and they set the standard so high. This is the challenge in which we compete."
On potential incomings and the fact Chelsea are currently hamstrung by government sanctions and the ongoing takeover process, Tuchel added: "We have at the moment a huge disadvantage - that's not decisive yet.
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"There is no need to make excuses now, it is just the situation we are in and we have to be as quick as possible. Right now, of course, it is unsatisfying because our hands are tied and we cannot act as we want.
"We have clear ideas for the profiles and characteristic of these players. It is not like you put a name on the list and then you get the player.
"You have to convince the player, you have to speak to other clubs and convince yourself this is the player, so there is normally a lot of work and it will be the same to be competitive next season, while, like everybody else, tries to close the gap to us, while the two top teams are what they are. A benchmark of consistency."