Chelsea are flying high in the Premier League and followed up the 4-0 rout of Manchester United with a win that was (almost) as satisfying, albeit with a more modest scoreline, against Southampton last weekend. In Saturday's late fixture, Chelsea will host Everton, who have been in good nick themselves; there has been more than reasonable evidence to suggest that under Ronald Koeman, the Toffees perhaps look set to pose a legitimate challenge for European football this season.
Antonio Conte addressed the media this afternoon at Cobham, and provided an update on the situation of two players returning from injury, Kurt Zouma and Cesc Fabregas, neither of whom will be available for first-team selection until after the international break.
"This week, Cesc Fabregas and Kurt Zouma started to train with the team and it is very important. It's normal that when you start after a long period of rest you need to find the best form, the best shape, and I think after the international break they will be available for selection."
"I'm pleased for Cesc because he's important for us. Also for Kurt, I'm pleased for him, he played two games with the Under-23 and he will play another game on Tuesday, with the Under 23. He's recovering, he's very good, and we are satisfied with this. Now, we hope that he can stay with us for the rest of the season."
In the light of rumours that have been picking up steam (especially this week), Conte was quizzed about the prospect of considering a loan move for Cesc Fabregas in January, as well as John Obi Mikel's contract situation. To no one's surprise though, Conte was non-committal on both matters.
"It's important to look at the present and to be in the present. I think for these type of situations it's too early to talk, I repeat that Cesc is Chelsea's player and I'm very happy to have him in my squad. Now it's important (for him) to recover well, to find the right form, come back with us and stay with us, with the team."
"It's normal in every squad, there are players that arrive at the end of their contract, and then together with the club, we will take the decision. For me, the most important thing is that Mikel is working very well. In the past, he had some injuries but now he's working very hard and I'm pleased with his work rate."
"Have I spoken to him now (about his playing time)? No. It's important to be focused on the championship in this period, we are in November and it's important now to be focused on the pitch. Then, we can face other situations. Now (it) is not good to face these situations."
Conte was asked what exactly John Terry had to do to get back into the starting XI, to which he simply reiterated that the captain was working well as always in training, in good shape and ready if called upon.
"John Terry is available and in good form. After his ankle injury he's been here for the second whole week, he's trained with us and he's in good form. I don't see any problem."
In addition, a reference was made to Terry's recent Instagram post, which features a 16-year-old JT cleaning out the boots of the senior players, and a question about youngsters missing out on learning experiences such as these was posed. Conte is, of course, old school in that way as well, but the times, they are a-changing.
"For sure, something has changed now as compared to the past. For example, I remember when I was a kid, I brought the bags for the older players and this was a tradition, like the same in England to clean the shoes of the older players. Now I think the time has changed but it's important that they continue to play football and to have patience for this sport; (it is important that they) don't see only the sport as a situation where you can only earn money. The passion is important for the young players, for their parents, because it's important education. What they can do everyday is very important, I think. But then for sure, the situation compared to the past has changed."
David Luiz's return to Chelsea on Transfer Deadline Day came like a bolt from the blue (no pun intended) and though the transfer fee was by no means low, it's looking like a very smart transfer after he's slotted straight into defence and with aplomb, especially impressing in the recent 3-4-3 shape. When asked whether he was surprised with the way David Luiz has seamlessly fit back in, and if Luiz had already become a better player than he was when he arrived, Conte once again stated that the he, along with the club, knew exactly what they were doing when they brought the Brazillian back hours before the window slammed shut.
"No I'm not surprised, because I knew David Luiz as a good defender, a good player with a great personality and good technique. I think that we are working with him and with the other defenders a lot to create the right solidity in defence but I'm not surprised, I know he's a good player. He won a lot in his career, but you must continue to win and for this reason David Luiz is in Chelsea, because the club and I, we trust in him and we wanted to buy him for this reason."
"I think that every player can improve, always can improve and when I signed Luiz, I knew him and he's showing this, that in this way to play is good for him but I know that we can improve for not only a single player but with the team."
Two questions were posed regarding player security (in the wake of an incident involving Andy Carroll being chased by armed men on motorcycles) and Chelsea's expansive loan system (loan systems such as ours recently came under criticism from FIFA President, Gianni Infantino) but were both intercepted and directly answered (and largely dismissed) by Chelsea's press officer, Steve Atkins, instead. That Atkins had to step in for two questions in a row amused Conte quite a bit.
Guus Hiddink visited Cobham yesterday and was pictured conversing with Antonio Conte; the head coach was asked about what exactly the two discussed during their time together, yesterday. Needless to say, Conte was about to reveal anything about anything.
"Guus, yes, for me it was a pleasure to see him, to stay with him and to have a conversation with him. It's always a pleasure to see Guus at Cobham; for me, the players and also the club, it's fantastic. We had a simple conversation. I had a good conversation with him last season and before starting the pre-season but now we spoke about nothing of importance."
Conte was also popped a question about whether the number of games scheduled for the side this season were too little, given the squad size, and whether he was feeling the lack of European football. This question has been asked in almost every single press conference so far; I wonder what possible answers the journalists might be looking for...
"We knew this situation before the start of the season and for this reason we prepared a squad with the right number of players. We have championship, we have the FA Cup and it's important for all the players to stay in good form because you never know. (There could be) an injury, a suspension, and its important that all my players must be ready."
It's almost as if the manager knows what he's doing! Strange.
With the focus finally shifting back to actual footballing matters of the present, Conte said our opponents this weekend were "very dangerous", and that it was important to remember that we failed to defeat them last season. Responding to a question about Romelu Lukaku that no one could have ever seen coming, he hailed the efforts of Diego Costa instead and went as far as calling him a "complete player". Looks like we have a complete striker of our own, then!
"We have Diego, he's playing fantastic football. He's not only scoring goals but he's working a lot and very well for the team. I think that I'm seeing a player, a complete player in Diego and it's fantastic for me and the team to have him in the team and also because he's scoring a lot. He's working a lot for the team and it's very important because when we have our strikers in Diego and Eden, Pedro, Willian and Oscar, they work so well for the team, it's fantastic. I am to regret for nothing, also I like to talk about my players and not the other players of the other team. Lukaku, for sure he's a very good player, he's young and he's scoring a lot but it's right to talk about my players because I'm very satisfied with my players and I hope Diego continues in this way because his commitment is incredible."
"(They are) very dangerous, last season we never won against Everton and it's important to remember this; for me, for my players, for our fans because tomorrow I await the great support of our fans and to continue this way. We know that tomorrow we'll face a strong team with many good players (with) good technique, we must pay great attention. We worked very well in this week and we prepared for this type of game against this type of team, but we must know that tomorrow, for sure, it will be a very tough game."
Finally, Conte stressed the importance of winning games and playing good football off the pitch as well as on it, but stated yet again, that the team must continue to do more of the same.
"When you win playing good football, its important for the confidence because your confidence increases and you also come to Cobham with the right spirit, with the good will to work very hard, to also support the fatigue better. When you win you also enjoy the football that you are playing. Now, I repeat, we must continue."
- Antonio Conte
On that very note, hopefully we will indeed see more of the same this weekend, and for the rest of the season to come.