Eight games remaining, five points off Tottenham Hotspur who are sitting pretty in 4th position and an upcoming game against the aforementioned team from North London. This is time for the Blues to go big or go home. Speaking in the usual pre-game press conference on an unusual Thursday, instead of the common Friday time slot, Conte touched upon injuries, international debuts and Chelsea’s top four chances.
Conte on the stakes versus Tottenham: "For sure this is an important game for us in our target to get a place in the Champions League." #CFC— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 29, 2018
A win against Spurs would bring the gap down to two points, with the North London team still having a game against Manchester City at Etihad. While a loss would give them an almost insurmountable eight-point lead over us. And nobody likes a draw, except José Mourinho in Champions League away games.
Conte on whether Chelsea will lose top four with a defeat: "Nothing is impossible. Because in this run, I put Liverpool as well. For sure, for us. We have to try to win every game and not make a lot of mistakes. Don't drop points." #CFC— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 29, 2018
Of course, one of the reasons Chelsea are in this dire situation is because we have received Arsenal’s bad luck when it comes to injuries and that trend seems to be continuing as the Blues could be missing up to five players for the game against Spurs on Sunday.
“David Luiz is out at least for another three weeks. He’s recovering from a problem in his knee. The other solution is [Gary] Cahill to play in the middle.”
“We are talking about a great player and someone I trust. I trust him. We’ll try and recover [Andreas] Christensen but, otherwise, there is this possibility. It wouldn’t be the first time Cahill would play in this role. We have this solution if we need it.”
At least now we have a timetable for David, which is far better than being left adrift in regards to expectations on when he would return to the fold. But it is still far from ideal with his immediate back-up Andreas Christensen potentially out of contention, in a centre-back core running thinner in options since Ethan Ampadu’s season-ending ankle injury.
Making matters worse is the possibility of missing on goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who returned earlier from international duty due to not being in full fitness to face Saudi Arabia in a match for the Belgium national team earlier this week.
“We have to check very well this couple of situations, [Thibaut] Courtois and Christensen. We’ll see which is the real physical condition, if they’re able to play on Sunday against Tottenham.”
”At this moment for me it’s very difficult to tell you with accuracy which is my choice for Sunday because we have to check these two situations.”
-Antonio Conte; Source: Evening Standard
Lastly, Chelsea’s January signing Ross Barkley is definitely out of the game as he has still not achieved full fitness, featuring for Chelsea for only 131 minutes since his transfer move from Everton in January.
Conte on Barkley: "Barkley has started to have the training sessions. We prefer him to train with the U23 and play on Saturday (in the Development squad). We are talking about a player who has come back from a bad injury." #CFC— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 29, 2018
However, it’s not all doom and gloom as we have a couple of reasons to be happy about as well. Those being Wilfredo Caballero and Marcos Alonso as both the Chelsea players made their international debut in this last international break.
Caballero’s international career with Argentina started off with a bang as he made four saves and kept a clean sheet on his debut against Italy. However, our Icarus flew too close to the sun and was quickly humbled as he came off the bench against Spain to concede five goals in Argentina’s 6-1 demolition at the hands of La Furia Roja.
Moving on from Caballero’s Michael Bay-esque international experience, Alonso’s international break was quieter as he came off Spain’s bench at the 79th minute in the Argentina game and enjoyed his eleven minutes of glory in a calm and composed fashion.
Conte on Caballero and Alonso getting international debuts: "I think this must be a great satisfaction for me and the team. For Caballero and Alonso it was their first appearances. The team must be proud because they helped them reach this target" #CFC— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 29, 2018
Let’s hope Caballero doesn’t carry his international form into the Spurs game if he is called upon due to the extent of Courtois’ injury being worse than anticipated.
And speaking of our upcoming opponents, there was a little bit of good ol’ banter™ at the press conference as one of the journalists asked Conte about what he was doing the last time Spurs won at Stamford Bridge. As was expected, our manager had no clue as the last time they won at our home ground was so long ago that the writer of this article wasn’t even conceived at that point.
As once put by Alex Ferguson: Lads, it’s Tottenham.
Conte on Tottenham not winning at Stamford Bridge since Feb 1990: "No I must be honest, no [I don't remember what I was doing when they won]. For sure, it is a long time. I remember two years ago, Spurs risked to break this situation because they were winning 2-0. #CFC came back"— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 29, 2018
Of course, as much fun it is to make fun of our trophy-allergic rivals, we cannot ignore the threat they pose. They’re simply not the same team they used to be several years ago and if we’re not at our best, they can and will beat us. We must not let that happen.
Conte on Tottenham: "We are talking about a good manager and many talented players in this team. I have great respect for Tottenham because in these years they grew a lot and now they are one of the best teams in England" #CFC— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 29, 2018
One of the biggest factors in their establishment as one of the country’s best is their and England’s hope, Harry Kane. All of us Chelsea fans must’ve been relieved when it was revealed that Kane could miss the game against the Blues due to the injury suffered in their win against Bournemouth. However, manager Mauricio Pochettino in his press conference revealed that their might be a small chance that Kane could feature in the game on Sunday. Let’s hope he’s wrong even if Spurs without Kane are already a very dangerous given the threats possessed by the likes of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min.
Conte on Harry Kane: "I consider him as one of the best players in the world. When you have a player who scores every season 30 goals, when you miss this type of player, you can feel this. At the same time, I think Spurs are an important team as a whole team." #CFC #COYS— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 29, 2018
On strikers, Chelsea’s Álvaro Morata has had a tough time fully adjusting to the Premier League. His career at the Bridge started off well but then suffered as he scored only one goal in twelve games this year. Of course this can also be attributed down to his back injury that he suffered in January, and it seems that he is ready to put his problems behind as he went back to his scoring ways in Chelsea’s FA Cup quarter-final clash against Leicester City.
Conte on Morata:"I think this period for Alvaro was very important. In the last week and this week he has worked very well. I think he needed to work harder cause don't forget Alvaro was out for a month and a half with his back problem. I think now he's really fit.He's 100%" #CFC— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 29, 2018
Good news for us as Conte confirmed that he is now completely fit as he looks to complete his resurgence and what better opponents to score against than our city rivals, eh, Álvaro? Although Conte refused to confirm if Álvaro or Olivier Giroud — or both! — will start against Spurs, stating he still has three days before he makes his final decision.
Last but not the least, Conte was asked about Courtois’ comments regarding his transfer situation as the Chelsea goalkeeper confirmed that he will definitely be playing for the Blues next season, even though his heart is in Madrid with his family (oh, what a monster). But Conte was having none of it as he said it’s the club’s and Courtois’ responsibility to sort it out. Sort it out quickly, they must.
Conte on Courtois contract comments (staying): "I think this is a subject for the club and Courtois. His contract and the renewal of his contract. For sure, he is an important player for us. I hope we find a solution" #CFC— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 29, 2018
Injury problems, contract extension problems, form problems. Chelsea seem to have it all as we go into the all important match against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday but as the saying (and Billy Ocean’s song) goes: “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The Blues will need to extract every ounce of determination and grit they can muster as we go into the final eight games of the Premier League season. It’s now or never for the Blues.