Chelsea had a mostly unfortunate day and performance in our last game, getting eliminated from the League Cup with a 2-1 loss at West Ham. But this weekend, we can continue our successful run in the Premier League. Chelsea enter the weekend in fourth, but just a point off the top.
Head coach Antonio Conte sat down for his customary pre-match press conference earlier today, and he started with some team news. According to Conte, midfielder Cesc Fàbregas remains out of contention, but right back Branislav Ivanovic is now available to feature.
"The situation for injured players is the same [as West Ham] but Fàbregas is not available. Ivanovic has fully recovered. Compared to the last games, I think there is nothing new. We have all the players available. I have to take the best decision for the starting XI."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Get West London
Wednesday's loss was the first defeat in four games when using the three-man setup, but despite the loss, Conte saw many positive things, and he isn't planning on tinkering further with our tactical systems any time soon.
"I watched the video of the game against West Ham - I think that we played a good game with good intensity against a tough team because West Ham played with the same players who played in the [league]."
"For me, we started very well then we conceded the goals and that changed the situation. I would prefer to stay in the game, not to concede the second goal, then I see a good reaction and spirit of my players because until the end we played to avoid losing the game."
"I think it is not a win or a defeat that can change my idea or the players' confidence. I think it is the right way for the players because it is a good fit for the team, this system. We have found a good balance and also we have a good offensive situation because in every game we scored a goal."
"For sure we must continue to work with the offensive situation, to memorise some movements, and also in defensive situations because it is not easy. It is different when you defend with the four and when you defend with the three, but I see a lot of positive things and we want to continue on this aspect and we are working hard to improve. We understood this way is the right way."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Sky Sports
During the last match, we saw the re-introduction of captain John Terry to the starting lineup, playing for the first time in six weeks due to an ankle injury, and playing for the first time in a back three. As the leftmost center back of the line, the Chelsea captain didn't exactly have his best game, struggling to come to terms with the requirements of his new position while also failing in a few basic defensive tasks.
Conte defended Terry's efforts, both on and off the pitch as a captain, leader, legend. Though it's doubtful Terry will start again as long as the back three of Cahill, David Luiz, and Azpilicueta maintain their record of clean sheets.
"I don’t like to talk about individual players and their performances. We win together and lose together. John was coming back from an injury and it’s not easy to start quickly and adjust to the shape, but I’m satisfied with him and the team."
"We wanted to win and continue in the cup but it didn’t happen, which is a pity. On Sunday we have another tough game so now we must stay concentrated on this game."
"John is an important player for us whether he plays or not, around the changing room, for his team-mates and the club. What’s important is the team. I have to always make the best decision for the team and never for an individual player."
This match will mark the quarter-way point of the season, and the high drama of the title race is already shaping up to be one for the ages. There are currently five teams at the top of the table within 1 point and a +2/-2 goal difference of each other. With Manchester City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Liverpool in the hunt (and Manchester United lurking a bit further below), Chelsea's task to maintain our current top four position will not be easy.
Conte sees consistency as the crucial point in this regard. The boss also urged the players not to look at the table, and keep their focus on the game-by-game work needed instead.
"This league is very difficult because in every game anything can happen. For this reason it’s important to get consistency in results and performances."
"There are five teams who are very close but we shouldn’t look at the table, we must be focused on our work on the pitch. It’s too early to talk about the table or the title. We must improve game by game and trust in the work, that’s the most important thing."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
As far as this weekend's opponents, Conte said he was impressed by the showings of Southampton in the league, especially in their draw against Manchester City last weekend at the Etihad Stadium. He expects the game against the Saints to be a different, tougher challenge compared to our recent matches.
Conte says Southampton are very strong and he is impressed with the offensive football they play. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 28, 2016
Conte notes their performance at Man City last weekend was excellent. He says it will be a 'good test' for his team. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 28, 2016
Conte: 'This test is different. We are playing away against a team in good shape. It's a big test for our ambition.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 28, 2016
Last season, Chelsea lost at home to the Saints 3-1, but paid it back with a 2-1 win at St. Mary's with a last-minute winning goal from Branislav Ivanovic. Despite the changes in the offseason at both clubs, including new managers, this weekend's match-up certainly won't be any easier.