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Antonio Conte: Lack of Champions League football 'could be an opportunity' for Chelsea

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The reality of the next twelve months is that the upcoming season will be the first time since 1997-98 that Chelsea will not be taking part in any sort of European competition -- a result of our uninspired, to say the least, Premier League title defence, as well as our early exits in the cup competitions.

While the lack of mid-week European action is a bitter pill to swallow, there is a silver(-ish) lining.  The team will have more time to work on adapting to Antonio Conte's new tactics, and will be able to focus on the league much more than our rivals.  We can easily spin this as an opportunity and an advantage.  (Which it is, just not one we would normally desire to have.)

"Not playing in the Champions League could be an opportunity because I will be able to work more with my players. If you ask me if I prefer this situation, I don't because Chelsea must be in this competition. You do feel like you're missing something when you're not involved in the Champions League. It is a special competition and you want to play in it every year."

"But because we are not, I will have a whole week to train with my players and that gives me a chance to work with them more compared to Chelsea managers in previous seasons."

"Chelsea aren't involved [in the Champions League] this season but these things can happen to big teams. In my first season in charge of Juventus, they were in the same position. I took over after they had finished seventh the season before. Obviously we didn't play in the Champions League or the Europa League and our energy was only focused on the championship."

"We were able to take advantage of that and we won the title. I hope to do the same with Chelsea. This season can be an opportunity for the players to work even more than last season."

While that sounds like a fantastic mission statement and Chelsea do have a lighter schedule ahead, none of our rivals will give up easily.  Not only have most of them improved their squads, they also upgraded their managerial capabilities. The Premier League hosts more top managers at the moment than any other league in the world, with Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, and Antonio Conte joining the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino and Claudio Ranieri and yes, even Arsene Wenger.

"It is going to be some battle to finish in the top four next season between all the managers and some will lose out. The players know this, too. This club must play in the competition because for a club like Chelsea, the Champions League is their home. It's important to get back into it."

"This won't be easy because in England there are seven or eight teams who are very tough and are ready to fight for the title. But that means they are also all fighting for the top four."

"Yet we are Chelsea. We have a great team and we must find our way back quickly to compete for the title or at least a top-four place. We are working very hard to prepare and we want to try to cancel the bad season of last year."

During his playing career, Conte spent 13 years of defending the shirt of Italian juggernauts Juventus, retiring from the Bianconeri in 2004. Once the passionate captain and leader on the pitch, Conte now uses his experiences to help him on the sidelines as a manager.

"I have taken a lot from my experience as a footballer and this is important. I lived this for many years in a great team, Juventus, where I was the captain."

"Then you understand. It is important to have lived through this situation as a footballer. Many times when I speak to the player I know before what they are thinking."

"It's very important to know when to push, when to put on a more relaxed training session, when to deliver rotation. When to put the pressure on and when to take it off."

-Antonio Conte; source: London Evening Standard

Although it's too early to tell if Conte's philosophy will produce good results on the pitch once the season starts, we're already seeing parts of it in effect during our preseason games.  Less than two weeks left to ensure that we can convert good work in training into points, results, and wins.