In the Great Disaster™ that was the 2015-16 season, the question wasn’t which Chelsea players lost focus. The real question was, which ones didn’t? The only consensus answer was Willian.
Top to bottom everyone else, at one time or another, had their eye on the wrong ball. Not least the manager, who created his own little sideline drama from the very first match.
So with Chelsea sitting a shaky fourth in the table, trailing Manchester City by a breathtaking 19 points and losing to minnows Watford and Bournemouth in consecutive weeks, it’s fair to ask the same question again; which players have lost their focus?
None, says Antonio Conte.
”We missed only one game mentality-wise, against Watford [a 4-1 defeat]. From the start of the season, in every game, our mentality was top.”
Speaking to the print media after the television cameras were unplugged at Friday’s press conference, Conte went on to defend his players, just as he’s done at almost every turn.
”There is always great commitment and great behaviour. But I’ve said this many times. I’m very happy to be the coach of these players. I’m very pleased, 100 per cent, to work with these players. “
A cynic might say he’s just trying to keep the dressing room together. And even greater cynic might say he’s focusing on the positive to keep his job. (Ed.note: and even-even greater cynic might wonder why he’d bother if he’s truly in it just for the sack and the payoff.)
Or maybe he’s telling the truth. Conte will always tell you that he’s always telling the truth. He’s the anti-Epimenides.
The eyeball test does agree with Conte’s claims.
One of Chelsea’s biggest problems this season has been slow starts and another has been a lack of goals. Through 27 Premier League matches, the Blues have netted 49 times. Of the top four, only Jose Mourinho’s dour Manchester United have scored fewer. At this point last season, Cheslea had 56. That may only be a difference of 7 goals, but those would’ve undoubtedly turned some of the 5 draws into wins and a couple of those 6 losses into draws.
It’s hard to assert that the fundamental problem is a lack of effort by the players. It might be formations, it might be tactics, it might be injuries, it might be lack of depth, it might be new players being thrown into the mix without the benefit of training camp, it might be the massive increase in the number of games and the lack of midweek training time.
It’s probably all of the above.
But not attitude, according to Conte. He thinks they’ve shown a winning mentality even if the results haven’t followed.
”A winning mentality is about the way you prepare the game, your commitment during training sessions, always at 100 per cent and to have good behaviour with your coach, team-mates, fans, the opponents... this is a winning mentality.”
Antonio Conte; source: Goal
There have been some stirring performances along the way, especially in the Champions League and particularly against Atletico Madrid away and Barcelona home — even if only one of those was actually a win.
Conte insists this team yet has a pulse. With a demanding and exciting schedule in the immediate future, with the fate of the season poised on the brink, now would be a good time for it to start showing itself.