In Antonio Conte's second official game in charge of Chelsea, the Blues will be visiting Vicarage Road to battle one of last season's surprise packages. The Hornets finished 13th in the league, only 3 positions and 5 points below Chelsea, in their first season back in England's top level since an ownership takeover by the Pozzo Family in 2012.
Conte expects it to be a good match-up, given the strength of our opponents.
"Tomorrow will be a good game for my players. We know it won’t be easy because Watford are a strong team with good players. The two strikers play together very well and we must pay attention because it’s a dangerous game."
"We need to send the right message for our confidence. It’s important to face this game with the right intensity, right concentration and be very focused."
Watford opened with a credible though somewhat lucky 1-1 draw away to Southampton. It was new manager Walter Mazzarri's English debut.
Mazzarri's a familiar face thanks to his exploits at Napoli a few years back, during which time he developed a fairly intense personal rivalry with Conte. The pair will look to renew their battles on the touchline on Saturday, though the Chelsea boss assures that all the past nonsense is in the rear-view. Despite the rancid words flung from both sides only a few years ago at the height of their strife, Conte said that he enjoys a normal relationship with his fellow countryman, respecting Mazzarri for his work. Anything beyond that is just part and parcel of being a football manager.
"I saw him in the meeting for managers and I spoke with him and his assistant coach about this experience because it’s also a great challenge for him. When we were in the Italian championship and we fought for the title, Juventus versus Napoli, everyone fights for his club, but our relationship is very normal. I have great respect for him and his work, he’s a great manager."
"Every manager has their own idea of football so for this reason every manager is different, not only me and Mazzarri. Every coach brings his idea of football, I studied for my own ideas and other managers studied for their own ideas."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Brazilian-born striker Diego Costa has been the center of conversation since the West Ham game, after which he gave an interview to ESPN Brasil where he voiced concerns regarding his perceived persecution by referees, fans from other clubs and the English media. Conte, no stranger to passion and moments of madness himself, defended his player's attitude and intensity, while recognizing that Costa must be careful especially with the excessive amount of media attention that he gets. ("So lay off of him, will ya?", he added internally.)
"We all know Diego. He's a passionate footballer and sometimes it can seem that he's always on the edge when he plays. But he's a good guy, a good player and he puts his passion into football when he plays."
"I'm happy with his attitude and his behaviour. I hope he continues but we know he must pay attention. Sometimes when many people or players talk about one player, it's very difficult for the player to play in a relaxed way. You always stay at the centre of attention."
"He must play his football, he must pay attention in that situation. But we are happy for his attitude."
-Antonio Conte; source: ESPN FC
The summer transfer window is set to close in twelve days, and while Chelsea have done a good job of addressing needs in the midfield and attack, the team is still in desperate need of defensive reinforcements. Conte also warned that if we loan out too many players, he'll be left with a rather thin squad.
The head coach did assure that he's working with the Board and having discussions every day about this situation, though also reminded that the overall guiding policy is that we're waiting for the "right" player in the "right" circumstance.
"For Cuadrado we are waiting, waiting for the situation. It must become more clear about his position. Now he's Chelsea's player. Today he had training with us."
"It’s very difficult to speak about the transfer policy. We are waiting for the right solution to improve Chelsea. I speak with the club at the right moment. That's difficult before a game. We need to sign some players. We are now a few players down, in the defence. We only have a few players. But we are working together, me and the club, to find the right solution."
-Antonio Conte; source: London Evening Standard
A strong showing from Chelsea on Monday, building on several good moments from preseason, have sent our season expectations up a few notches. But Conte is keeping his feet on the ground, being cautious over setting any specific targets so early in the season.
The previous stated goal was to return the club to the top four and the Champions League, and if a genuine title challenge materializes in the process, that's just a bonus. Now that the season is actually here, the main focus is to take things game-by-game.
"It's difficult to put a target in now for the squad. We're starting after a bad season. If you look at the starting XI or over the last year, it's the same. A team like Chelsea must fight for the title, or until the end of the season. But we know also that we've arrived after not so good a season."
"I must be honest – we are working to improve, but the real target of this squad now is very difficult to explain. We need more time to pass, go game by game. I congratulated my players because I think we played a good game against West Ham. There was a great will to win. I like this a lot. We have to maintain this mentality."
-Antonio Conte; source: FourFourTwo
The zealous, loud, passionate attitude of Conte on the sideline offers a stark contrast from his prudent, quiet, measured words in press conferences. Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far -- as a famous US president once said.