Two months into his second season at Chelsea, Antonio Conte is facing fresh challenges, fresh tactical hurdles, and plenty of rehashes of familiar stories. But as grating and tiring the constant media speculation about his relationship with the Board and his Chelsea future may be (as if we’re all working under some dynastic delusions that simply no longer exist in modern top level football), the facts as we know them are that Conte is happy at Chelsea, he’s committed to the cause, and he’s happy to be building for sustained (future) success. Whether he will be the one to see that success through from beginning to the end is almost immaterial at this point.
“I see my players every day and I am proud to be their coach because I see their commitment in every training session and every game and I am pleased for this. For sure, to defend the title is very difficult because the past has shown it is very difficult to win two titles in a row.”
What matters is that unlike two years ago, when everything crumbled to pieces in spectacular fashion, Chelsea are showing no signs of falling into a similar rut. After a horrendous opening first 45 minutes of the season, the Blues rattled off seven wins in eight games, including one of our best European performances ever in the away win over Atlético Madrid, before the disappointment of Saturday provided a harsh reality check.
“I think we can’t have regrets and we gave everything. All my players gave 120 per cent to try to make a good result, but it wasn’t so. Sometimes you have to accept a bad result, but I think the most important thing is to see the fantastic attitude and commitment of my players because they gave everything.”
Chelsea thus head into the second international break with the same exact record as last season (4W-1D-2L), with the same amount of goals scored (12), and three fewer conceded (6) — and thus probably fewer drastic changes required than twelve months ago when the now famous 3-4-3 debuted in response to defensive shambles and created not only a 13-match winning streak and a subsequent league title for Chelsea, but a veritable tactical revolution in the Premier League.
As ever with Conte, the (not so) secret ingredient is hard work and hard work and more hard work. The squad, both old and new, should be used to it by now. Ambition, motivation, commitment — Conte famously said he had no magic wand to fix Chelsea’s issues after the back-to-back losses to Liverpool and Arsenal last season. Even if 13 games later it appeared as if he was lying about that (and the 3-4-3 certainly had a case to make), in reality, it was those basic intangibles that turned the season around. And it’s those qualities around which any top four finish, title challenge, or long European and FA/League Cup campaign will need to be built.
“Our motivation must always be high, in every competition. We must put all of ourselves into trying to do the best in every game.
“Last season was a great satisfaction because the year before we finished 10th and then we won the title and reached the final of the FA Cup. I think we had a fantastic season and this time we have to try to do our best and try to have great satisfaction again. For sure, it won’t be easy but last season also was not easy.”
“I think last season we did a really great job because we won the league against really strong teams. Manchester City last season was also a fantastic team. Now, after a great transfer market they improved a lot. It’s not simple to play in this league, but we have to try to do our best in every game, with great ambition, because we must always have the right ambition.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC