If a Conte press conference is like a meal, then the main course is the stuff about Tottenham and the points race and pressure — basically, all the things we’re supposed to talk about. But the dessert is always the fun part and today’s pre-Swansea presser didn’t disappoint, with tasty niblets about David Luiz and AC and Tammy coming late.
First, here’s your meat and two vegs, eat them, they’re good for you (unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case here’s your three veggies.) We begin with Conte talking about cutting Tottenham’s five-point lead to two, before they play Watford on Monday.
“Now the reality that Tottenham have a big advantage is that they have five points more than us. This is the big advantage. The only way to try and put a bit of pressure on Tottenham is to get three points tomorrow. Otherwise it will be very difficult to put pressure on them.”
Swansea actually have a decent recent home record. But when you step back and look at their overall results, they’ve only harvested three points from a possible fifteen in their last five Premier League fixtures and only have a four-point gap on the relegation zone.
“It won’t be easy because we are going to play against a team fighting to avoid relegation. In the last five games at home, Swansea won four games and drew only once. That means they are in good form. We must pay great attention. But if we want to continue to have hope of a place in the Champions League we need to get three points and try to put pressure on the teams ahead of us.”
And as for getting into the top four, the story is the same as it’s been since we lost to Tottenham at the Bridge. Same quotes, wash, rinse, repeat.
“As you know very well, it won’t be easy. But at the same time we must try to get more points between now until the end. We have to play very difficult games. But if we want to continue to have hope, we need to get points.”
Conte also once again praised both Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata, individually and collectively, as they give him options up front.
OK, that’s the nutrition. Now onto the empty calories! First, an amuse-bouche about whether he attended David Luiz’s birthday costume-party this week.
“I don’t know about a party. As you know very well, I don’t like to be in parties in general. I don’t know about this party.”
Mmm, tasty. And what about Luiz’s condition? Amid rampant rumors than Luiz’s disappearing act is actually a banishment for daring to challenge Conte (and not an actual injury,) Conte had an update on his condition and, most importantly, whether or not he’ll play again this season.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. We’ll see. For sure, now, he’s having training sessions and is improving a lot. He had this problem in his knee. He’s working. Working very hard. He’s aiming to come back before the final of the season.”
We’d love to see Luiz playing again, if for no other reason that to put those unpleasant rumors to rest.
If Chelsea win, Conte will be the third-fastest manager in the relatively brief history of the Premier League to notch 50 victories, behind Mourinho and Guardiola. As you’d expect, he’s consumed with his statistical profile. Not.
“I must be honest: I’m not interested in the stats. For me, it was the same when I was a player. If you asked me how many appearances I had in Serie A, I don’t know. Or how many goals I scored in Serie A, I don’t know.
“For sure, the players and I are trying to do our best. Our best is to try to win every game. Last season we won the Premier League. This year in the league we are struggling, struggling a lot. But I’m happy to have this possibility to take another win and to stay behind these two managers.”
We won’t be seeing Tammy Abraham on Saturday, thanks to those pesky loan rules. The Chelsea striker has been getting irregular minutes late in the season and scoring has been a struggle since he got two against Huddersfield back in October. He did play ninety minutes against West Brom and got his fifth league goal of the season (eight in all competitions) in early April. For Conte, the struggle is all part of his growth.
“This is an important experience for Tammy. It’s sure, it’s sure. I think for him this season is very important for his development. He’s playing, not with regularity but he’s playing. I think this is right for his experience, to improve his experience and confidence. Then we’ll see for the future, what will happen. For sure, Tammy is a Chelsea player and it will be an important player for the future.”
Then there’s the resuscitation of Gary Cahill’s Chelsea career, something that seemed unlikely just a couple of months ago. He’s taken over the middle of the backline as Andreas Christensen is given a long break, apparently mentally and physically exhausted by the season. Even though Conte is asked about Cahill and showers him with praise, he’s mindful of not saying anything that might hurt AC’s confidence.
“We are talking about an important player for Chelsea. I think we are talking about an important player for the national team. He has great experience. Now he’s playing in the middle and I think that he’s playing very well. He has to continue in this way. I have the opportunity to rotate the three central defenders and make the best decision game by game.
”Christensen is playing an important season, his first for Chelsea in this pressure, and now I think it’s right to give an opportunity to Gary to play more. Also because I think he deserves this.”
And finally, one last piece of confection. Earlier this week Jose Mourinho declined to take any responsibility for the sale of Mohamed Salah, who can’t stop scoring. Conte was philsophical and basically echoed what both Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp said.
“It’s not so simple. We have to compare Salah of four or five years ago, and not this Salah now. Salah in the present has improved a lot, developed a lot his football. The experience in Italy was very important for him. Now I’m sure that he’s a different player compared to in the past. For this reason, this comparison is very difficult with the players.”
It’s worth adding that had Salah stayed, he probably wouldn’t be scoring as much anyway. Chelsea have never played the all-attack system that Klopp prefers and it’s unlikely he’d have seen as many chances as he’s been gobbling up at Anfield.
By the way, one thing was notably and mercifully absent from the TV part of Friday’s presser: there wasn’t a single question about Conte’s future. That’s a sweet treat all by itself. But then the print guys went and ruined it by asking him if PSG have been in touch, now that Unai Emery has officially stepped down.
“No, but my answer is always the same. I’m committed to this club. I have a contract with this club. My intention is to continue to work with this club.”
Is it silly to keep hoping he might be here next season?