Sport Soccer

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Last season remains in Chelsea's minds - Antonio Conte

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, pictured, goes head-to-head with Jose Mourinho on Sunday
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, pictured, goes head-to-head with Jose Mourinho on Sunday

Antonio Conte believes Chelsea's deterioration under Jose Mourinho still lingers in his players' minds ahead of the self-proclaimed Special One's return with Manchester United.

Mourinho won his third Premier League title with Chelsea in May 2015 before his second spell came to an end seven months later, with the Blues perilously close to the relegation zone.

Since then the Portuguese, who won two league titles in his first spell between June 2004 and September 2007 before returning in June 2013, has been appointed Manchester United manager and he will manage in opposition at Stamford Bridge.

Italian head coach Conte, who was appointed Mourinho's permanent successor in April and began his job in July, spoke of his respect for Mourinho and his achievements at Chelsea.

He also mentioned the lasting damage of last season.

Conte said: "When there are these types of season - very bad, because we finished 10th in the table - it's normal that something remains in the players. In their minds. In their heads.

"It won't be easy to cancel a bad season like last season."

Conte says he has not spoken to his players about Mourinho in the lead-up to their reunion with the man who in 2005 delivered Chelsea's first title in 50 years.

"I didn't talk with my players about Jose Mourinho," Conte added.

"For us, what is important is Manchester United and playing against a team, not against Jose Mourinho."

Some Chelsea supporters railed against their own players after the departure of the popular Mourinho.

But Conte does not believe those individuals have a point to prove to Mourinho.

"I don't think that," he said.

"When you have a lot of time with a man and you won a lot with him, you love this man. You love this person for the relationship that you were able to create in this time.

"I think the players want to win, but have great respect for him."

One of players blamed was Diego Costa, after an alarming goalscoring slump which followed his prolific streak in helping Chelsea to the 2014-15 title.

Costa is known for his abrasive approach, but Conte will not try to guard against United trying to provoke the striker, who has scored seven goals this season.

"It's useless to speak with Diego about this situation," Conte said.

Costa showed signs of petulance towards Conte in last weekend's defeat of Leicester, apparently asking to be substituted for fear of picking up a yellow card and a suspension, or an injury.

"That topic has finished," Conte said.

Conte last week laughed off suggestions he was facing the sack before guiding Chelsea to a 3-0 defeat of Premier League champions Leicester.

Manchester United have since played twice - a goalless draw at Liverpool on Monday, when Mourinho's defensive tactics were criticised by some commentators, and in Thursday night's Europa League win over Fenerbahce.

Conte anticipates another tactical encounter when Mourinho's United visit.

"Also on Sunday it will be a tactical game," Conte said.

The fallow week is not favourable for Chelsea, Conte claimed.

"I don't want this type of advantage," he added.

"This means you don't play in Champions League or Europa League. I think Chelsea must play during the week in this type of tournament."

Conte has fielded three central defenders in the last two games, without conceding a goal.

Conte said: "I'm pleased because in this week I'm seeing the right commitment, the right work rate for the players. I see players that trust in this system, in this type of work."

Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic remain out with minor muscular injuries, while Conte is still to decide whether or not to field Willian and Oscar, who missed the Leicester match on compassionate leave following family bereavements.

John Terry has again trained in full this week after being an unused substitute against Leicester following an ankle problem.

Monday is the 50th birthday of Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich and a win would be a fine present.

"We want to give him this gift," Conte added.

Press Association

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