Chelsea will take on Manchester United this Sunday, as José Mourinho's returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time since his sacking ten months ago. While Mourinho's return has dominated the headlines, there were actual football matters to talk about, too, at Antonio Conte's pre-match press conference.
First was a question on John Terry, as Conte rubbished earlier reports that the captain had injured his ankle once again, having just returned from such an injury.
"John [Terry] is in good shape. He trained with the team. He solved his problem in his ankle. This week he trained very well and he is available for the game. Terry is our captain and he is an important player for us."
Two players who missed last weekend's game should also be available, though just like Terry, are not guaranteed to start.
"Willian came back on Thursday morning and then he had two training sessions with us. But in this situation it is very important to continue all aspects. I spoke also with the player and, for me and the club we are sorry for him for this situation, also for Oscar."
"Oscar, he flew to Brazil for the death of his grandfather. It is important to consider all the aspects and you make a right decision. I have also tomorrow to see the situation but, I repeat it is important now that we support [Willian] – the player and the club together in this family because when you lose your mother it is always a bad thing."
-Antonio Conte; Source: FourFourTwo
Not everyone will be available however, as Cesc Fàbregas and Branislav Ivanovic remain out with minor injuries and Kurt Zouma continues his ACL rehab. There is however good news on Zouma as he's apparently back in training with the U21s and could be back with the first-team next week.
"Fàbregas had a small muscular injury in a strange part of his body. I hope he will be back very soon. Ivanovic is also recovering. Zouma came back to training with the U21s this week, next week I want him to join us."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Mirror
Conte then clarified which "strange part" of Cesc Fàbregas's body he was referred to as apparently some journalists are twelve years old.
Conversation then shifted to more abstract topics, such as the fan reaction to former best friend and now worst enemy Jose Mourinho.
"He was an important manager for Chelsea. I have great respect for him. He’s a great manager, he has won a lot in his career and I think he deserves maximum respect. With the club and the players, he wrote a part of the story of this club. He deserves a good reception."
"When you win three championships you remain in the heart of the fans, that’s normal. Then, after the whistle, he becomes like the players of Manchester United, an enemy."
More significantly, Manchester United will present a great challenge and a chance to see how far the team has come since the deflating losses to Arsenal and Liverpool. The new 3-4-3 system seems to be working great, but the general feeling is that it's yet to be truly tested despite the 3-0 win over reigning champions Leicester City last weekend.
"We changed the system of play. The team took a lot of benefit from this change. The players found the right suit with this type of work. We are more compact without losing our danger in offensive situations."
"We know we must continue to work to progress in this way. This week I am seeing the right commitment and work-rate from the players, and I see players who trust this system and this type of work."
"The last game we beat a good team who won the title last season. On Sunday, we face another great team and I want to see progress compared to the Liverpool and Arsenal games, and I am confident about that."
Conte expects a "tactical" encounter, which may not provide compelling viewing for neutrals but will no doubt be nail-biting for anybody invested in the fortunes of Chelsea Football Club.
"I watched the Liverpool [vs. Manchester United] game and it was a very tough game between two good teams who will fight for the title until the end of the championship. It was a tactical game. We saw two teams very close who paid great attention, above all when they were without the ball."
"On Sunday it will be a tactical game. When two great teams like Chelsea and Manchester United face each other that is normal. I watched the game yesterday and I saw the players who will probably start on Sunday."
One definite advantage Chelsea will have is one of fitness and time of preparation, as the Manchester reds had to play Turkish club Fenerbahce in a Europa League match just yesterday. It's not an advantage we truly desire (would rather be involved in European competition as well), but it's an advantage we need to take ... well, advantage of, to ensure we return to regular midweek action next season.
"I don’t want this type of advantage because it means you aren’t playing in the Champions League or the Europa League. Chelsea must play this type of tournament during the week."
"When you have the possibility to play in Europe you can give chances to other players who every day have training sessions and work very hard. Chelsea this season can’t do this. This is not an advantage."
"The only advantage we have is that we play at home with our fans. They have a very important role on Sunday to support us."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC