Antonio Conte takes a thinly-veiled swipe at Jose Mourinho over treatment of Chelsea star
Antonio Conte has taken a swipe at former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho by questioning how he overlooked Victor Moses for three seasons during his second spell in charge.
Moses is quickly becoming the surprise success story of the season after being converted into a wing-back by head coach Conte as part of his switch to a 3-4-3 formation.
Since Moses came into the side, Chelsea have won six successive Premier League games without conceding a single goal and have raced to the top of the table.
Moses was signed by Chelsea for £9 million from Wigan Athletic in 2012 and made 43 appearances in all competitions during his first season at the club under Roberto Di Matteo and interim manager Rafa Benitez.
But the Nigeria international was sidelined once Mourinho took over and did not make another competitive appearance for the Blues during the three seasons the Portuguese was manager.
Mourinho loaned Moses out to Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham United before Conte took over this summer and took a shine to the 25-year-old on Chelsea’s pre-season tour to America.
“I could see his potential from the first days of the summer training camp,” said Conte. “Moses has important qualities: technique, physical strength, the ability to cover 70m of the pitch.
“I find it incredible that someone like him has been underestimated.”
Chelsea chiefs had become fed up with Mourinho’s constant request for star signings and his habit of alienating certain players within his squad.
Part of the appeal of appointing Conte was that Chelsea believed he would bring the best out of his entire squad and judge players on their performances, rather than their names, which has been the case so far.
While top scorer Diego Costa and Eden Hazard have been Chelsea’s star performers during their incredible run, Moses has arguably emerged as the most important player in Conte’s new winning system.
Chelsea have striker Michy Batshuayi and midfielders Willian, Oscar and Cesc Fabregas who could come in if Costa or Hazard were ruled out through injury or suspension.
But there are no other natural right wing-backs in Conte’s current squad and an injury to Moses would leave the Italian a dilemma over whether to ask one of his players to try to fill in for him or change back to the 4-2-4 formation that was so badly exposed by Liverpool and Arsenal.
“My starting choice was 4-2-4,” said Conte. “I wanted to repeat the script of Bari, Siena and initially at Juve. Then we switched to 3-5-2 and finally we hit on 3-4-3 because it’s the best shape for this team.
“Ideas are the basis of our work, but you have to take the characteristics of the players into account. I’ve always considered balance a fundamental skill for a team. The two phases, offensive and defensive, are equally important and interact with each other.
“The first defenders are the strikers in terms of winning the ball back and the strikers often work on the movement of the defenders.
“I repeat though: Chelsea are being lauded now, but after defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal there was already talk about failure.”
Speaking to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, Conte also gave an insight into his management style by saying: “The players follow me, the real difference is intensity: you go to 1000 during the week.
“It’s more correct to talk about diet. We look for a balance between carbohydrates, proteins and good fats. Eating well is essential for an athlete, it helps prevent injuries and aids recovery.
“A winning mentality is in the cultural heritage of a club, you need people to keep it at high levels.
“You can’t be successful just based on history or trophies won, you need the daily contribution of the men who work at the club. A winning mentality means daily work, the way you deal with your opponents and the effort put into the smallest details.”