Friday 23 March 2018

Antonio Conte blames previous managers for Chelsea's defensive frailties

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte Picture: Reuters
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte Picture: Reuters

Tom Rooney

Cesc Fabgregas’ only two starts for Chelsea this season have come in the EFL Cup, the most recent of which saw the Spaniard net an injury time brace to ensure victory over Leicester, but Antonio Conte remained coy when asked if he planned on using him from the get-go against Arsenal tomorrow.

Like Manchester United, Chelsea have not tasted victory in the league since winning their first three games on the bounce.

Antonio Conte’s first campaign at the helm got off to a flier as his side prevailed against West Ham, Watford and Burnley.

A 2-2 draw with Swansea was followed by a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool at Stamford Bridge a week ago.

Chelsea’s muscular midfield could be said to lack a subtlety of touch, which is why some have queried the thinking behind the sparse use of Fabgregas.  All three of the midfielder's league appearances have been off the bench.

Indeed, it was the former Barcelona midfielder who initiated the move that led to Diego Costa’s stunning equaliser against Swansea, and it is a well known fact that the duo enjoy a fine rapport on and off the pitch.

Costa has bagged five league goals thus far but, against Liverpool, the striker’s runs often went unnoticed by those in the middle third. That said, he still managed to pull one back for the Blues.

Fabregas’ two-goal intervention midweek against the league champions was as impressive as it was vital, but the Italian coach was giving little away when asked if the 29-year-old will start against his old club at the Emirates Stadium.

Cesc Fabregas, pictured, has not started a league game for Chelsea under Antonio Conte

"For Cesc this is a special game but the most important thing for Cesc now is that he is a Chelsea player and he is playing very well for Chelsea.

“I am seeing him very focused and concentrated during the training and he played a good game in the cup. It is a possibility he can start (against) Arsenal. I have another day to make the decision.

“We know tomorrow we face a good team and for sure they will fight until the end to win the title. Arsenal has good young players with great technique and good potential and organisation. They play good football.

“This is a big game between two big rivals and it is important to play a good game after the defeat against Liverpool.”

Anyone who watched Italy in the recent European Championships will know Conte is a coach who places the utmost priority on defensive stability and frugalness.

Chelsea will be without John Terry again, as the captain is yet to recover from the injury sustained against Swansea, while Kurt Zouma has only made a tentative return to training.

Moreover, Chelsea have conceded two goals in four of their last five games, which will have most certainly vexed the animated Conte.

Interestingly, he attributed some of these shortcomings to two of his immediate predecessors, but was clear the issue is being addressed.

 “When we conceded the goals, all the team conceded the goals and not only the defenders.

“It means we must improve and work together to improve the defensive situations. This problem was already there last season because Chelsea conceded 55 goals, and we must work a lot on this aspect because if you want to challenge for a championship, you mustn’t concede so many goals. 

“We are working to reach a level that is always high. It is normal when you start the work in a new team and you bring a new idea and methods that you need time, but I am confident about this and we trust in the work and I know we can improve a lot.”

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