When a team with Chelsea’s ambition lose twice in a row, remain firmly planted outside the top four and are on the worst away streak in fourteen years, people are going to criticize. That’s how it works.
Right now the players are hearing it for what many have called a listless performance and the manager is hearing it for supposedly not trying to win the game.
The good news for our nine remaining Premier League games is that they’re not crumbling under the pressure. They’re united.
Conte is defending his players.
"I think that today they showed the difference between them and us in this moment.
"25 points is a big gap and I think we can have regret for the other games (Watford, Bournemouth, Manchester United) but not for this because the effort of the players was an important effort."
And Olivier Giroud, speaking on behalf of the players, is defending Conte.
“Of course, of course [we are behind Conte]. I don’t even question myself about that.
“So, it is not a crisis. We played United away and City away. Obviously, we could have done better but these are not small games.
“It is not the day and the moment to question whether we are behind the boss or not. Obviously we are behind him and together.”
-Olivier Giroud; source: Goal
That sounds suspiciously like common sense.
Which is something Conte implied his critics are short on. When informed that the Sky talking heads called Sunday’s performance a “crime against football” and “anti-football”, Conte didn’t mince words in defending his strategy of sitting deep, protecting the areas between the lines and guarding against a blow-out score.
“I think in this moment you have to accept every critic. But I’m not so stupid to play against Manchester City open and to lose three-nil, four-nil.
“But if I remember well, a few days ago Arsenal played twice against them and then you criticize a lot Wenger because they concede three goals.
“I think the pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics because I think you must have knowledge to speak about tactic(s), and not speak only to speak, in stupid way.”
For those keeping score at home, that’s two “stupids” in one answer. Conte is not in the mood to have his tactics questioned.
Nor is Giroud, who understands what the intent was.
”The coach made the tactics and we tried to respect it. It was okay on half-time. It was still 0-0. They didn’t create too many chances, even though they had two or three.
“I think the target was to be solid until the end and then try to put one in at the end.
“Obviously, when you concede just after half-time, it is a kick in the leg a little bit but we still thought we could come back at the end. It was not enough but City deserved to win.”
Another point of criticism is that Conte once against started his three mighty mites — Hazard, Pedro and Willian - up front and left both of his strikers on the bench. The complaint is that Chelsea’s attack didn’t have a focus.
For Conte, though, it’s always about balance between defending and attacking. He preferred the two-way games of Pedro and Willian, whose performances he praised.
“When we play against strong team against important team, for us it was very difficult to keep the same balance as last season with Hazard in the position like #10.
“I think that in this position we needed to have two players that match quality and run a lot defensively and I think that Pedro and Willian today played a fantastic game.”
By now you’ve probably figured out that Giroud, who was picked to start by 60% of those of you who voted in our pre-match poll, wasn’t going to complain about only coming on in the 78th minute for Willian.
“That’s a question for the coach...
”It is always easy to say that (that he should have started or come on sooner) after the game but if Eden had an opportunity to score, we could have said it was the best choice. Obviously it was difficult today.
“I am not the coach and the coach makes the team. We have to respect that and give our best no matter who is on the pitch.”
-Olivier Giroud; source: Goal.com
Chelsea are parked five points behind Tottenham Hotspur for the fourth and final Champions League place. There are nine matches — or 27 points — left to play for.
It’s tight, but the top-four is still an attainable goal, especially with games against Spurs and Liverpool still to come.
That’s the point Olivier Giroud makes in trying to defuse the bombs being lobbed at the players and the manager right now.
”It is not a good weekend for us because our opponents won but we still have nine games to go. We will believe until the end. Keep the faith and some top teams will play against each other.
”You never know, we need to keep the focus on this and win the next game. Go step-by-step. We need momentum to reach this fourth place...
Not everything is thrown away. We will rest and come back stronger and try to bounce back as soon as possible against Crystal Palace.”
The sky hasn’t fallen. Not yet. Everyone knew that playing the two Manchester team in their stadiums was going to stretch Chelsea to the maximum. But that’s over now. Winnable games remain.
As long as the players and the manager are sticking together for the common cause, the season can be salvaged.
And right now it looks like that’s exactly what they’re doing.