It’s not as if many people thought Chelsea were going to win on Sunday at Manchester City. They’re rampant. We’re manifestly not.
When Kante stayed on the team bus, curled up into a ball with an illness, hopes sank even further.
But still, the stats are pretty dismal.
- First time in 14 years that Chelsea have lost four consecutive away matches
- Zero shots on goal
- Manchester City completed the most passes in a Premier League match since 2003-04.
- The subs were ineffective
- Thibaut Courtois was a leading passer
But if you expected Antonio Conte to apologize for sitting back, absorbing pressure and not forcing the issue with City, he has another think coming for you.
Should Chelsea have been braver going forward? Conte says: "No, do you think this? The game can finish not 1-0 (if you do this). It's not good enough (to have one shot on target) but this is the truth. It's not because of the tactics." He also says #CFC missed Kante today.— Vaishali Bhardwaj (@VaiBhardwaj) March 4, 2018
(BTW, the official stats show no shots on goal for Chelsea.)
That was in the tunnel interview. In the full press conference, Conte stuck to his line.
Conte says players followed his instructions: "We prepared the game in this way, don’t concede space between the lines, also because when you play against City you have to use your brain, otherwise you risk to end the game in a bad way & lose three, 4-0" #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) March 4, 2018
With his midfield options reduced to two — Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas — it’s hardly surprising that Conte decided they needed all they help they could get to contain City’s league-leading bunch of goal scorers.
In a sense, his plan worked.
One, because the central midfield didn’t make either of the two mistakes which led to City’s goal. Those fell to Andreas Christensen, who’s having a very bad spell and made his third big error in the last three mega-matches, and a temporarily oblivious Marcos Alonso.
And two, because City didn’t Arsenalize (new word) us.
Conte on Sky pundits criticising his tactics: "I'm not so stupid to play open against City & lose three or 4-0. If I remember well, a few days ago Arsenal played twice against them & you criticised Wenger a lot because they conceded three goals in 30 mins"— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) March 4, 2018
And so despite the loss, despite staying five points outside the top four, despite not mounting a serious threat on their goal, Conte feels like the team did the best they could under the circumstances.
Conte: "I think we must have big regret for the defeats against Bournemouth, United, Watford. But I don't think today. We played against a team that is showing to be a strong team."— Dan Levene (@danlevene) March 4, 2018
There’s concern over how Conte used his bench but he said that with Hazard, Pedro and Willian already on the pitch, he felt like he had his best attackers already playing. He bemoaned that when he finally did bring on Giroud (and at the last gasp, Morata), they were ineffective.
He said he delayed the Morata-for-Hazard sub as long as he could because he hoped Hazard might create something special. That’s unlikely to quiet the criticism, but he’s the one who’s paid to make those decisions.
So, not a happy day overall.
Is there a silver lining to this cloud? Well, in our remaining nine league matches we only play two teams currently in the top four, Tottenham and Liverpool. That suggests we can make up ground by beating the teams we ought to beat in the other seven. And not that it matters, but we haven’t actually lost the crown yet. City need one more win to mathematically rule Chelsea out.
There is one tiny little spark of hope for that next mega-match on the schedule, Barcelona away. Iniesta went off with a hamstring today and is a doubt for the second leg of the Champions League tie.
Small mercies, as they say.