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Conte looks for positives amid all the dives and refereeing decisions

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Chelsea v Norwich City - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Replay Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Antonio Conte is not one to obfuscate his thoughts and emotions, especially as his English has gotten better over the past 18 months, and after Chelsea’s hard-fought elimination of Norwich City from the FA Cup, which took two games, 210 minutes, and a penalty kick shootout, he was in no mood to take it easy on either his own team or the refereeing crew.

That said, he did find one positive (the overall performance and the fact that we won), before going back to the theme of needing to improve. Win or lose, this is an ever-present motif. Constant improvement through hard work is, after all, what Conte puts on his business cards instead of his name.

One place where Chelsea did show improvement on Wednesday was in the goalscoring column, with Michy Batshuayi breaking the team’s over 5-hour scoreless streak. But Chelsea failed to add to that lead and paid the price in the final minute of regulation.

“Our performance was positive. Despite making many changes, we scored one goal and we created many chances to score the second goal. Instead we conceded with 10 seconds to go.

“Now we have to play in two days against Brighton at 12.30. We have to try to recover very well. I hope we don’t pay [for this], also because my decision was clear: to try to go to the next round tonight and give a bit of rest to the other players. For sure we have to face many problems, and also because Pedro and Morata are not able to play, but we want to try to get three points.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC

The sending-offs of Pedro and Morata certainly didn’t make Chelsea’s task any easier, though they will have a bigger impact on the next game, away to Brighton on Saturday. Usually, Conte would switch to using three small forwards when Morata isn’t available, but Pedro’s suspended as well. Could Batshuayi play again? You might joke that Andy Carroll could, but even if he does transfer to Chelsea, he’s injured at the moment.

With his options thusly reduced, Conte wasn’t too happy with either Pedro or Morata, the former for diving, the latter for letting emotion get to him and showing dissent (and not for the first time, if we recall the Bournemouth League Cup game).

Unsurprisingly however, Conte saved his greatest ire for the shambles of a referee and an even more useless VAR system, which failed to award a clear-cut penalty to Willian and instead allowed the referee to book him. The referee booking Morata twice before even consulting the VAR was questionable as well — what would’ve happened if it had turned out that the tug on Morata’s shoulder, a foul anywhere else on the pitch, was “contact enough” for a penalty?

“We need to improve if we want to use this new system.

“There was a very clear situation with Willian at the start of extra-time. I watched it again and this is a very clear penalty.

“The referee took the decision quickly to book Willian. It means you don’t have doubt. Instead, if you want to improve this new system, you have to wait to check with the person watching the game. Then, if this person is 100 per cent sure, and says it is simulation, you go and book Willian.

“The person who was watching the game must have had a doubt. There was a kick to Willian. In this case you have to call the referee and say there is a doubt. Maybe it’s not a penalty, but it’s better you watch the situation because the final decision is for the referee on the pitch. Otherwise we have another referee and this is not right.”

While Conte says he’s a proponent of the idea of a VAR, and talked about the positive experience it’s been in Italy, he rightly makes it clear that if we are to introduce a review system (whether initiated by the referees, the observers, the coaches, or whoever), we must get the big decisions right. Otherwise, what’s the point?

“I like to accept the referee’s decision. But if we want to use a new system, I can’t accept a big mistake. The Willian penalty was a big, big mistake, not of the referee on the pitch but the one watching on the TV.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC

When even the defender in question agrees that it was a foul, you got it wrong. So let’s hope the FA don’t compound this already massive sh*tshow by reprimanding Conte for these comments.