Antonio Conte was not asked about injuries in his pre-match press conference, so we don’t know how well Marcos Alonso is doing, or how much longer Tiemoué Bakayoko or David Luiz may be out, or what’s the status of Ross Barkley, Álvaro Morata, and others who have been nursing injuries recently.
That question was probably too basic for people more concerned about the narrative, speculation, and trying to get Conte to drop some hints about tomorrow’s tactics. Conte of course didn’t reveal much, but did hint at a general, if obvious game-plan.
“We must be ready to suffer without the ball, to be compact, not to lose our heads during the game, and then to try with the ball to do what we know. What we try and do during training.”
He came back to the suffering theme several times. Translation? Well, none is needed, really. He said it himself.
“The other team are very dangerous, so we have to work as a team to try and stop Barcelona: Messi, Suarez, Iniesta... the whole team of Barcelona. We have to work very hard. We have to know that, during the game, we must be prepared to suffer. But, at the same time, we must have the idea to go and score at any moment.”
Conte (and the rest of the world) expect Chelsea to be without the ball for long periods of time and counter-attack with quick breaks. Same as it ever was, really. As for stopping Messi ... yeah, not even he has the answer to that one.
“That’s a good question. We are talking about the best player in the world. Messi has the capacity to solve situations, to create a chance when there is no chance to score.”
Some coaches try to take the pressure off of their players. Conte eats it for breakfast and wants his players to do the same. It’s all about finding the “level” of the current squad. Are we good enough for the later stages of the Champions League? We’re about to find out.
“This is football. Football is this. If you want to compete at the maximum level, you have to live with this pressure.
”A team like Chelsea in every game must have the right pressure. We have to try to play the game with only one idea: to try and win. Sometimes you are able to. Sometimes not. But that must be your idea. You have to live with the pressure. If we want to stay at this level, the pressure must be your friend, not your enemy.”
As for his lineup, Conte confessed to having a somewhat sleepless night after the 4-0 rout of Hull City in the FA Cup.
“I think that, these days after the game in the FA Cup, I must be honest... it was a bit difficult to sleep, to sleep well. But not a lot. When you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare.
”You have to prepare everything. You have to prepare big things, but the smaller details too. They can move a result a lot of the time. We have an idea. We have a plan in our heads. I think that, in this specific moment, it’s very important to pick the players who are at the top of their form and then try and do our best to win the game.”
Willian played a blinder Friday and has been very good lately. But it was Pedro who was subbed off early on against Hull, presumably to rest him for tomorrow. Might that suggest that Willian will sit despite his good form? The same sort of questions swirl around Alvaro Morata and Oliver Giroud.
There was a rare treat today, an opening act before Conte took the stage. Eden Hazard was rolled out to answer exactly seven questions. Naturally, he was asked about going to Real Madrid. Naturally, he gave exactly the same answer he has a hundred times before. Naturally, some in the media are trying to twist it into something it’s manifestly not.
Hazard asked if his long-term future is at Chelsea. "Errrr. First I see the game tomorrow."— Samuel Marsden (@samuelmarsden) February 19, 2018
Aside from that nonsense, Hazard talked about having to play his best, as he tries to do every time he hits the pitch. And that he’s a different player to Lionel Messi. But he did have this encouraging nugget for Chelsea fans.
“In the past they were in a little bit of trouble against Chelsea, I hope tomorrow is the same.”
So say we all, Eden. So say we all.