BY PAUL LAGAN
Antonio Conte is “disappointed” that his side are 14 points behind Manchester City.
The Blues leapfrogged Manchester United into second place in the Premier League at the weekend following the Blues 5-0 demolition of Stoke City at the Bridge.
But it’s Chelsea’s and Conte’s inability to overcome pre-season angst and injuries that has left them so far behind Pep Guardiola’s outfit.
The Italian reiterated once again the partial reasons for the deficit.
“For sure, this season we started this season with a lot of problems. we changed many players at the same time we brought in new players like (Tiemoure Bakayoko, he’s 22-years old.
“He arrived after surgery and I needed to wait for him to recover. (Eden) Hazard started the season recovering from surgery on his ankle and then Danny Drinkwater arrived with a bad injury in his calf and was out for a month and a half.
“I think we started this season with many problems, then as you know I needed to have the players to work with me and my idea of football, to adapt themselves to play with their new team-mates and for this reason we started the season so-so but I think we are doing a good job.”
With the season at halfway, would he now, with most of the players fit, wish to see the season started now?
“I don’t know,” he said. “But I know this league is very difficult and it will be very difficult in the next five months to try to take a place in the Champions League because you have to fight against Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.
“It won’t be easy. Maybe during the start of the season we lost against Crystal Palace when they were bottom of the table. We lost against West Ham when they were bottom of the table. We lost the first game of the season against Burnley and if you remember we started with young players and we started against Man City after the Champions League game when we had one day less to rest. We can do better but we can worse.
Danny Drinkwater, a £35million signing from Leicester City, scored a spectacular debut goal against the Potter – is he a viable option for the reminder of the season?
“I hope so because. One of the reasons Danny is here is because he won the title with (N’Golo) N’golo two years ago. For sure I have had the opportunity only on Saturday to put them to play together like they did at Leicester. Because Danny started the season with this injury he knew it was not simple to have good training at that time. But now he can improve a lot to reach his peak form and then to have the possibility with the four midfielders to rotate. I think it was very positive to see the players that won the league with Leicester.
“ He knew during the transfer window that he would probably
change teams and it’s not simple to have a good training session at that time. And now he has to improve his form. I know he can improve a lot to reach his peak form and then I have the possibility to rotate with these four midfielders.”
Conte knew that it would be a difficult season especially as both Manchester clubs invested heavily on players.
“But I think I knew this season would be difficult because I saw what our opponents did during the transfer window,” he said.
“At the same time, when the transfer window was over you have to work to transfer your trust in your players in every moment. To work to improve the team. If you compare last season, we lost important players but with the new players, we put down the average age and now I think we are working very well for the present and future.”
Chelsea are rapidly becoming the new Arsenal – focused solely on Champions League qualification.
“The most important thing is to qualify for the Champions League, this must be a great target, not just for us but also for the other teams,” he said.
“But at the same time I want to try to finish in the best position we can do.”
“I must be honest, now I don’t like to have 14 points gap between us and Manchester City. I don’t think we deserve to have this type of gap. I am very, not angry, but disappointed for this but, at the same time, I know we are doing the best but there is a team on a fantastic run and we must have great respect.”