Preseason is now over, and the time for real football at the Bridge has finally arrived. Set to take on West Ham in his first official game as Chelsea's manager, Antonio Conte took the podium at Cobham to talk to the press three days before the match.
The new Chelsea boss didn't say anything outrageous, nor did he say anything too boring. A pleasant affair, much more so than anything last season, especially once we look past the standard, banal lines of questioning for much of the 20+ minutes.
Conte first spoke on the expectations for the forthcoming season, as memories of our poor attempt at defending our Premier League title in the previous one still linger.
"Expectations for every team are very high. After a bad season like last year we are working very hard to be ready to start. We know this season will be very tough for every team in every game."
"I think last season was bad for all the players, not just one, two or three. It’s important we don’t forget last season because if we remember it we have more strength. But now we have to think about the present and build a good future for Chelsea, for our fans and the club."
"I think this league is fantastic but very tough. There are many great clubs who can fight to win the title, fantastic players with great talent. There are also good managers, it will be a great battle and I’m excited. My players are also excited. We have a good situation to fight with the others and we’re ready."
Chelsea's transfer activities, or lack thereof, has been dominating the discussion as of late. Conte addressed the current state of the transfer market, where what otherwise would be outlandish bids getting rejected left and right. The manager urged patience and assured that the club are working hard to find solutions, while taking care that any solution is indeed "the right" solution for the problem.
"I speak every day with the club, we have a plan and we know the market is very crazy in different aspects. We must be patient to find the right solution for the team. It’s important to improve the squad but right now I’m very happy to work with these players because they’ve shown me great commitment every day and that important for me."
"Every single club wants to improve because they want to fight for the title and I think every club adapts its transfer policy to their own ideas. Chelsea is waiting for the right solution but at this moment it’s not easy. It’s a crazy transfer market because when you try to buy a player the cost is very expensive and not the real valuation, it’s a very strange situation."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
Continuing on the transfer front, Conte talked about Nemanja Matic, who was rumoured to have had a "heart-to-heart" with the manager on the possibility of him joining Juventus this summer. The manager reaffirmed that the Serbian is an important player to his plans.
Conte: 'Nemanja is an important player for me. He knows this. There isn't a problem with him. Nemanja is a Chelsea player.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 12, 2016
Conte also confirmed the news of Bertrand Traoré's loan move to Ajax. The way he and the club are looking at this situation, it's better for the young striker to play an entire season at the Netherlands, rather than get time on the pitch as a fringe player at Chelsea.
"He is a good player. Together with the club we prefer for him to play a full season, to play every game and then to come back because he is a good prospect for Chelsea."
-Antonio Conte; source: London Evening Standard
Having now spent a month working as Chelsea manager, Conte reflected a bit on his short time with the group. (Ed. note: but somebody should tell him that it's not "boom-boom" but "untz-untz-untz-untz".)
Conte says the habit of playing music before a game in the dressing room is new to him and one he really likes. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 12, 2016
Conte is asked which music he would choose before a game: 'Discotheque. Boom boom!' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 12, 2016
Conte, on looking relaxed, smiles: 'I'm not! It's the first time I have managed a new team in a new league in a new country.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 12, 2016
Throughout the preseason, Chelsea experimented with multiple tactical shapes with and without the ball, but never strayed from a four-man defence. At Juventus and with the Italian national team, Conte made his name famous by using a three-man back line but without players of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini's ilk, using such a set-up at Chelsea was just an afterthought for the new manager.
Instead, he's found two "tactical solutions" for Chelsea - presumably the 4-4-2 which was employed for the most part of our preseason, as well as the 4-3-3 that we saw in the final two games. But this work is not done and he will continue to seek the right tactic to fit for his players.
Conte: 'We've found 2 different tactical solutions. In the future it can change. I hope to very quickly find the right fit.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 12, 2016
Conte: 'In my past I played with 4 or 3 defenders. It's important for the coach to understand the right fit for the team.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 12, 2016
Conte says he has used different systems for the different teams he has managed, and he is never afraid to adapt. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 12, 2016
Last season, West Ham impressed the footballing world by achieving a 7th place finish in the Premier League. You can read more on how they managed such a feat in our opposition analysis for the match.
Facing the Hammers on his official debut, Conte expects a tough match for the men in Blue.
"The match will be very tough, I’m sure about this. We face a strong team, they had a good season last year, they have a good manager and good players. They are physical, fast and have great talent."
"Also it’s a derby and we know these type of games are very tough. But we want to play, to start the season and give our fans satisfaction. We will try to fight and do our best to win the game because it’s important to start in the right way. To start with a derby is tough but I’m excited."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Time to put all the hard work from preseason on the pitch, and convert it all onto getting back to our place with wins aplenty.