Recharged, refocused, restored, Chelsea are ready to right the ship and get the season back on at least a semblance of the right track.
After a rare break, the first in almost three months, the players returned to training on Friday and have been putting in the work to get ready for a season-defining month. Three home games in the next eight days — West Brom on Monday, Hull City on Friday and Barcelona on Tuesday — will be followed by away games at Manchester United, Manchester City, and Barcelona (with a home game against Palace sprinkled in). Chelsea’s Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup fates are on the line, not to mention the future of Antonio Conte.
Given the pressure, the challenge is as much mental as physical.
“To have a bit of rest after a busy period, I think it was important. It was important for them to be with their families and to spend more time for themselves – to have the opportunity to breathe and relax.
“I think it is the same for the coach also, when you have to prepare a game every two days. For sure, for us we don’t need to worry about the physical situation, but I think that we can recover after mental fatigue.”
The mental aspect may actually be the most crucial, since Conte has reduced the physical demands this season when compared to last.
“When you play every two or three days it is impossible to work on the physical aspects, and this season we are not working on that. But if I have time to work with the players – a whole week – you try to start the week with a physical session and then in the midweek, you start to look at the tactical work and prepare for the game.
“You understand that only through work can you reach a fantastic target, like we did last season. Our work last season allowed us to reach an incredible target.”
The expectations set by last season’s success has proven impossible to live up to, but as Conte has been urging, now is the time for cooler heads and long(er)-term thinking. That’s easier said than done, but a win on Monday would surely calm a few frayed nerves.
“Now the most important thing is to be focused and to work to try to give the best this season – from me, from the players and from everyone here.
“I think that we are ready to face the game against West Brom, and then to play against Hull City, and then Barcelona. We must be ready to play three games in eight days, and I think we are ready.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC