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Problems run much deeper than Conte for Abramovich

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte

Matt Law

Last season, Chelsea immortalised manager Antonio Conte in the form of an emoji but, nearly 12 months on, they are making mincemeat of him.

Conte kicked out at the water bottles near the home dug-out after Dele Alli had scored the third goal that made certain of Tottenham Hotspur's first victory at Stamford Bridge since 1990, but after that he looked like a man who knew his fate.

There was no ranting or raving as Conte watched most of the remaining 24 minutes with his hands in his pockets. He would probably tell you privately he has had his hands tied behind his back for much of this season.

The Italian claimed he did not "want to create problems", but also said he had become "tired" of repeating himself as he insisted he was not worried about the consequences of finishing outside the top four.

"No, I'm not worried," said Conte. "Honestly, I think that I'm giving - the players are giving - everything this season. We are working hard to try to have a good season, but I think that, in the end, we are deserving of this season.

"I have my ideas, my opinions, but I don't want to tell you them right now.

"I'm tired of repeating the same things. I have my opinion and I'll keep that in my mind. I don't want to create problems."

Continued

Asked whether he felt he had continued to get the most out of his players this season, Conte added: "Yes. I'm sure about this. We are working very well and the commitment of the players is top. Despite this, we stay in this position. We must be worried."

Conte has protected his players by taking much of the criticism aimed at Chelsea on his own shoulders, or deflecting it towards the club's transfer strategy.

But those players, who owe their winners' medals from last season to the Italian's coaching, are giving up on trying to save Conte or, at least, sending him out in style.

They have sensed change for months and, knowing it is Conte and not themselves who will pay the price for a disappointing title defence, too many have grown tired of his tough training, regular video sessions and dark moods.

For the first time, Chelsea are facing the prospect of having to navigate an entire Europa League campaign. When they won the competition in 2013, they had dropped down from the group stages of the Champions League.

But it is unlikely to be Conte's problem. Another title-winning coach will go the same way as so many of those before him and Chelsea will, once again, hit the reset button.

The task, however, facing owner Roman Abramovich appears tougher than it has ever been. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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