LONDON, Apr 30 (Reuters) Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole believes the English champions will find it even harder to secure a hat-trick of Premier League titles next season.
The England international, a key part of Sven-Goran Eriksson's World Cup squad, scored a fantastic individual goal in a 3-0 demolition of Manchester United yesterday to spark wild title celebrations at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's second successive title was earned with two games to spare and the left-sided midfielder said the manner of victory had sent out a warning to their nearest pursuers.
''It was tougher this year than last year and will be tougher again. We wanted to put a marker down for next season just to show we were the best side this season,'' Cole told reporters.
''It was a magic day all round, even better than last time. To beat a great side like Manchester United is a great result.
''We have a lot of respect for them and they pushed us all the way this year. They have improved and next year are going to come back even stronger so we will have to improve again.'' Cole's seventh league goal of the season was one to savour.
Receiving the ball 25 metres out on 61 minutes he bamboozled United defenders Rio Ferdinand and Mikael Silvestre before racing through to fire past Edwin van der Sar.
His trickery and sublime finish had coach Jose Mourinho out of his seat punching the air in triumph but the pair have not always seen eye to eye this season.
HARD WORK Despite some impressive performances that put him on the shortlist for the English Professional Footballers' Association player of the year award (won by Arsenal's Thierry Henry) his over-flamboyance at times has infuriated Mourinho.
In late December, after a 2-0 win over Birmingham City, Mourinho publicly criticised the player, saying ''one more match like this and he is out''.
Cole was also hauled off after 26 minutes in a 1-0 defeat by Fulham in March and was left out of the starting line-up for last week's FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool.
''That's life at a big club like Chelsea,'' Cole reflected.
''We have four of us (including Arjen Robben, Damien Duff and Shaun Wright-Phillips) competing for two positions really and sometimes the manager will change it around.
''Whenever something has not gone right for me I've always come back, worked hard. I'm not the sort of player to sulk or get upset and that has always served me well.'' Despite the criticism Cole has enormous regard for his manager, adding: ''He's been great for Chelsea. Two seasons, two league titles, the League Cup and Community Shield is good going. His attention to detail is fantastic and he has good people around him.'' Chelsea's league title was tempered though, Cole said, by disappointment again in the Champions League.
The Londoners lost 3-2 on aggregate to Barcelona in the first knockout round, the Spaniards exacting revenge for their elimination by Mourinho's side a year before.
''I think we are not far behind Barcelona and we're certainly not far behind the other Champions League semi-finalists,'' said Cole.
''In football you need a bit of luck as well as to prepare well and play well. Next year we will come back stronger and it could be our year.'' REUTERS RL VC0852