We spent a fair amount of time talking about training last season, mostly from the angle of Chelsea gaining an advantage from having most of our midweeks free, and thus not only being able to put in a tremendous amount of work and preparation on the training ground, but also give regular days off for players after games, sometimes even two or three! This season, the day off the players received on Sunday was the first non-international break one I can recall in some time.
Last season, Conte was able to drill his troops — often to the edge of boredom through repetition — so that most of the movements and tactical plans became second-nature automatisms for the players. It is hardly surprising that Chelsea looked like a well-oiled machine for large parts of the season after switching to the 3-4-3, while others took quite some time to adjust and implement any similar measures or counter-measures. But in an ironic twist, the success earned last season is what’s hindering the team this season. Now that others have figured out how to play against Conte’s system, Chelsea’s search for a new solution is running into one major problem: we simply don’t have the time to find it, drill it, learn it, love it.
"I have to try to improve the situation. We have to continue to work. When you play every three days it’s very difficult to work on tactical aspects and physical aspects and pay attention to every detail.
"Sometimes you have to play a game without training. Yesterday, for example, I say we are working 70 per cent less than last season but it is normal this.”
There was an interview with Carlo Ancelotti last season where the then-Bayern head coach talked about just how little time he has to actually work with the players on the training ground (45 days total in the first five months of the season). If a coach like Carlo, who has the reputation of taking it very easy indeed with the players, rues the time lost to travel, recovery, and all those other things that come with a busy schedule, just imagine how much it would affect a coach like Conte, who lives and breathes dedication and work on the training ground!
Of course, this shouldn’t be a new situation for the Chelsea head coach. He should have plenty of experience handling similar situations at Juventus, both as a player and as a head coach. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
"We have to try to find the solution to be more solid. We have to try find the way to recover the injured players very soon. But we scored eight goals in the last three games. The better thing is to stay more in the middle and between the two aspects and try to improve your team.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Evening Standard
And the injuries certainly aren’t helping either, nor are the jobless Twitter-egg experts who pop up like clockwork anytime a big team has a bit of an injury crisis to point the finger at the coach’s training, of which they have very little actual knowledge.
Could those muscle injuries to Kanté, Morata, Moses, et al. be avoided? Maybe, maybe not. If there was a foolproof way to do so without sacrificing game performance, we’d probably do that. Except there is no foolproof way, at least not yet, and so injuries happen.
If Conte’s to be believed, he’s not stupid enough to work the players as intensely as last season. He simply can’t. But he isn’t about to completely eschew every ideal that makes him who he is. He simply can’t. And so the balance must be found, as on the pitch, so on the training ground.
The question, as ever, is will he have the time to find the time to fix things in time.