Looking to bounce back from a stinging defeat ten days ago at the hands of Tottenham, Chelsea travel to a snow-clad Leicester for Saturday's late kickoff in the Premier League.
Speaking ahead of the game in his customary pre-match press conference, Conte was tight-lipped on any injury concerns. We've heard this line before and normally it does hide true concern (otherwise he'd just say everything's fine) though obviously he's keeping mum on exactly who the affected players may be. Everyone seemed to be a full participant in training, as far as we could tell from the videos.
"I have to check a couple of situations and then decide tomorrow. I don't want to give an advantage to our opponent."
-Antonio Conte; source: Goal
Things got more specific afterwards and next up was a question about Nathan Ake, who, for all practical purposes, is being treated like a new signing, which is somewhat correct. The youngster's versatility is an especially welcome addition to the squad.
"In these days I tried him as a central defender."
"It's important for me to have a bit of time with him to know him better, and to try to find out the best position for him. He can play in different roles and it's very important for us he is able to do that."
More to the point, Conte reiterated that he believed the youngster was ready for the step up to Chelsea and has made a positive first impression in training. But there was also the usual line about needing to adapt as Conte remained coy on whether Ake would feature in tomorrow’s game
"I'm very pleased for him to stay with us. In this one-year-and-a-half he has improved a lot. This shows that it's important for a young player born in the Academy to go and play on loan, and then, when they are ready, come back and play with us."
"Ake is a really good example. He is a good player, very young but with a good personality. He can play as a central defender, in the middle or on the left, he could play as a wing-back. It's important now to work with us. He's trained with us only a few days. It's important for him to have a bit of time to go into our idea of football and adapt, and then be under consideration."
"This makes me more calm in the January market. The first impressions are a lot of positives. He has good personality and he's mature. It's not a gift for him. I don't like to give gifts. Somebody must deserve to come back."
Other ex-loanees like Kenedy and Charly Musonda have been present at training for the past couple weeks — though more by circumstance (i.e. failed loans) than actual choice — and Conte seemed especially positive about Musonda, talking as if the youngster was set to perhaps stay for the remaining five months of this season rather than head out on loan to Roma or elsewhere.
"Charly is a good prospect. He has the quality to become a great player. For this reason, it's a good opportunity for him and for me to work in this five months with him and try to improve him. If he shows me this month he deserves to play, he will go into the team. I like this type of player and I want to work with this player. I see this player for the present and for the future."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
One player who's more for the present (if not the past) these days is John Terry, who's been linked with loan moves to a couple teams, including Bournemouth. Cherries' manager Eddie Howe had addressed these rumors earlier in the day in a conveniently open-ended manner but Conte was fairly adamant that his captain will not be leaving the club this month.
He says John Terry is an important player due to his fantastic work on and off the pitch. #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 13, 2017
He says Terry has been a big help to him and will 'stay with us.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 13, 2017
Lastly, Conte had a few cautionary words about Leicester, who may be struggling in the league, but surely are a dangerous outfit (even without Riyad Mahrez, who's at the Africa Cup of Nations), as well as Claudio Ranieri, who was named coach of the year by FIFA a few days ago.
"Claudio is a really great manager, a great man. I am proud to know him and sometimes to call him to speak. He did a great job last season and not only then. I knew him when he was coach in Italy, at Chelsea, at Valencia. He's a great coach and he deserves [The Best FIFA award]. He did a great job. I'm pleased for him."
"I am not surprised [at Leicester's position] because this league is very tough. I consider them a really good team with good players, strong players, players with talent and technique, a good mix. They have a great manager. It can happen in this league. Don't forget Chelsea last season."
"The Leicester game is very important for us to restart to win. Leicester are the champions from last season, they have a lot of good players with good quality, they have impressed me."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
It was a relatively interesting press conference (relatively being the key word) and reinforced the belief that Conte is willing to evaluate the options he has in the squad and the system, before searching the transfer market for solutions. There may be signings of course, but it certainly is refreshing to see the effort at least.
More importantly than all that however, it's time to refocus on the title challenge and start a new winning streak.