Thursday 23 November 2017

Antonio Conte at a loss to explain Chelsea struggles as he admits defeat by Man United will end title chances

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte during the press conference. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte during the press conference. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Jack de Menezes

Antonio Conte was at a loss to explain why his Chelsea side are conceding so many goals this season following the 3-0 humbling at Roma, and admitted that a similar result this weekend against Manchester United will all but end their Premier League title defence.

Chelsea suffered their heaviest Champions League defeat since Conte himself masterminded the same result for his Juventus side in November 2012, and missed the chance to guarantee progression to the last-16 as they slipped to second in Group C behind Roma.

Conte saw his defence heavily exposed at the Stadio Olimpico, and despite the Italian leaving the stadium satisfied with the first-half showing – despite being two goals down to a Stephan El Shaarawy double – he admitted that he was unable to give a reason as to why Chelsea have conceded seven more goals than the same point last season.

“If we knew the problem, obviously we would change it,” said Conte. “This season we are conceding much more chances against us than last year and we have to try to get that extra step in or get that extra 10 per cent and get to 100 per cent, not 90 per cent that maybe we are at in a lot of games when you go a bit less.

“We need to start again to have the balance like last year and try first to defend well and then try to play and score goals. It’s important we have a good, solid performance.”

Unlike last season, Chelsea are playing in Europe and as such have played four more games than they had by the start of November in the 2016/17 season. Nevertheless, the Blues will hold a team meeting on Wednesday, as they usually do after every match, to dissect what went wrong and run though video of the defeat in order to try and prevent the same from happening against United this weekend.

Should Chelsea suffer defeat at Stamford Bridge and Manchester City continue their relentless run of form with a victory over Arsenal, Conte’s side will find themselves 12 points behind Pep Guardiola’s, and Conte is wise enough to know that it may be a gap too large to bridge.

“City are nine points ahead of us, United four, Tottenham just one, so if you want this game is a must-win game to remain at the top and remain close to the other teams,” Conte added. “We will try to get the three points at home and we will give our lives for it on Sunday.

“I think after the Palace game and Roma, we showed some character against Watford and then we had a good game at Bournemouth. We could have won 0-4, so we have to play like that again. We have a meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) about today’s game and we will see the images what we did wrong, where we can do better and then we must give 150 per cent of ourselves for Sunday. It’s a big game coming and if we want to remain at the top of the Premier League it’s a must win game for us.”

That said, Conte insisted that his side’s recent struggles are not down to the increase in football with the Champions League return, combined with the lack of signings in the summer that leaves him with a relatively small squad. Instead, Conte highlighted the injuries to key players that he has had to contend with, and drew on the absence of influential midfielder N’Golo Kante as a possible explanation.

“No I don’t think so,” he said when asked if the return of European football was to blame. “We won the league without playing Champions League, so obviously it’s a change and it’s harder and we are more tired than last year. But I don’t think it affects us. We just have to keep on training well and be ready for Sunday.

“The injuries did not come at a good time. N’Golo was important for us and brings a lot of balance into the team but you cannot push him if he does not feel ready. Danny Drinkwater was out a long time as well so Cesc [Fabregas]and Baka [Tiemoue Bakayoko] played a lot of games and that impacts on their legs and it’s harder for them to keep up the pressure, especially against the three midfielders like today.

“Hopefully we will try to recover well from today and Sunday we have to give a great game in front of the fans to show them that was an off-day and we can continue.”

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