Chelsea’s new head coach Antonio Conte has asked for time to improve Chelsea after a poor season last time out, with the manager aware that expectations surrounding the club are probably separate from the reality of the situation as it currently is.
The Blues endured their worst start to a top-flight campaign since the 1960s under José Mourinho last season. The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ was sacked in December and replaced by Guus Hiddink on an interim basis, much as Phil Scolari was in 2009. Back then the Dutchman led Chelsea to an FA Cup win and a top four finish. This time out, however, the best he could manager was the quarter-finals of the world’s oldest club football tournament and tenth place in the Premier League.
Chelsea have been in the mix for at least one trophy in almost every season since Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, so the club’s fans have come to expect a level of success that puts pressure on its managers from an early stage. Indeed, four previous managers have lasted just eight months in charge at Stamford Bridge and the former Juventus boss may be aware of Abramovich’s lack of patience when it comes to under-performing bosses.
Conte, who has seen his side pick up just one point from the last nine available to them in the Premier League as well as narrowly missing out on an exit from the EFL Cup at the hands of Leicester City, believes that his methods are the right ones and that things will turn for the Blues with time. He said, “It is normal when you start work in a new team and you bring a new idea and method of football you need time. But I’m confident about this and trust in the work. We can improve a lot”.
Chelsea won their first three league games, including two derbies against West Ham United and Watford, as well as beating Bristol Rovers in the EFL Cup before the international break. Since then, however, they have failed to win a league game and needed extra-time to get past the Foxes in the third round of the cup. The drew 2-2 with Swansea City at The Liberty Stadium, lost 2-1 at home to Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and lost 3-0 away to Arsenal. They have conceded nine goals in their last four games in all competitions, something that has annoyed the defensive minded Italian.
The Blues conceded 53 goals in the league under Mourinho and Hiddink last term and have kept just a single clean-sheet in eight games so far this time out. Conte believes that hard work is vital if his side is to get back to the right end of the league table. He said, “When we concede a goal, all the team concede a goal, not only the defenders. It means we must work together to improve the defensive situation”.
The Chelsea manager stopped short of blaming his predecessors for the team’s defensive frailties but believes that the issues were present before he arrived. Now his team needs to buckle down and work together to stop the goals going in. He said, “This problem was already there last season. We must work a lot on this aspect because if you want a great championship you mustn’t concede so many goals”.
Conte was the twelfth different Chelsea manager that Arsene Wenger has faced as Arsenal manager during his time with the Gunners and Conte feels that is an incredible achievement. He said, “It is fantastic if someone is able to stay for 20 years in the same club. There is satisfaction in both sides”.
Perhaps mindful of his own situation at Stamford Bridge, the Italian was quick to point out that a manager’s career cannot only be summed up by the victories that he has overseen but the way he works with the club as a whole. He said, “Sometimes I think it is important to value a manager not only if he wins, loses or draws. Sometimes if you judge only if they win you make a big mistake and you pay for this in the future”.
In the wake of his side’s loss to their London rivals the former Italy national manager questioned his players’ commitment and attitude. He is unsure whether the Chelsea team have been believing their own press, saying, “We must work a lot because we are a great team only on paper. [From] the first minute we did not have the right attitude”.
The Chelsea manager re-iterated the need for his team to find more of a defensive balance and continuity, refusing to comment on whether or not he feels his team is already out of the title race. He said, “We have not got the balance and now is the moment to consider everything. It is incredible to concede three goals. We must find a solution. The most important thing is to work and not think about the situation [with the title]”.