Antonio Conte delivered a training-ground message to his Chelsea players to 'man up' as he made it clear he was still the manager, despite a week of speculation over his future.
Chelsea’s squad returned to work on Friday and were left in no doubt about what head coach Conte now expects of them after granting captain Gary Cahill’s request for three days off after the embarrassing 4-1 defeat by Watford.
That result had come on the back of a 3-0 loss at home to Bournemouth and prompted suggestions Conte could be sacked before the end of the season, when he is expected to leave in any case. Conte remains in charge for Monday’s game against West Bromwich Albion and needs his players to back up their claims they are still behind him with a much-improved performance. On their return to training, players were told that now was the time to prove they were men and to face up to the challenge ahead of them.
Conte had accused them of playing with fear and questioned their character in the immediate aftermath of the Watford defeat, and the Italian made it clear on Friday that there was no room for any sort of immaturity.
Publicly, at least, Conte seems confident his message will have hit the spot. Asked whether his squad could respond in the right manner to two successive defeats, he said: “We are talking about players who have played at this level for many years. Honestly, I think these type of players can find the right strength to fight the fear.”
Conte acknowledged that more bad results could dictate his immediate future, but insisted he did not fear for his position.
“I’m not thinking, for one moment, about the possibility of going away from this club,” he said. “My commitment is totally for this club, like that of my players. But, as you know very well because we are talking about football, a lot of times – I don’t agree with this – the manager and the coach depends on the results. In this case, we are having poor results. For this reason, we have to pay great attention.”
Chelsea fans have remained supportive of Conte, chanting his name in each of the club’s past two defeats, and the 48-year-old added: “I have to say thanks to the fans. From the start of my experience with Chelsea, they tried to stay behind me in every game, in every game, and they continue to do this. I’m very proud of this.
“They are understanding that I’m doing all myself, maybe more, for this club. I want to say thanks to the fans because they deserve the best and I’ll try with my players to give them the best satisfaction.” Conte has not absolved himself of any blame for a run of just two wins in their past 10 games and neither will he allow the Chelsea board to shift all the responsibility on to him and his players.
“In every situation, positive and negative. When you have this period with such poor results, you have to divide the responsibility between me, the players and the club,” he said.
Conte insisted record-signing Alvaro Morata would miss the West Brom match and admitted Chelsea were in the dark over how long the striker would be out with his back injury. Olivier Giroud could make his first start.
“Morata, no,” said Conte. “Giroud has trained and will be in contention. We are talking a lot about bad results, but sometimes we forget we are facing a serious situation.
“Players like Morata are very important and have been missing for a long period of time. I don’t know how long he will be out. We are struggling a lot to find a solution to solve the pain in his back.
“If you ask me whether he needs a day, a month or the rest of the season, I don’t know. For this reason, I’m a bit worried. You know very well the importance of the player.”
Despite Morata’s absence, Conte defended his decision to allow Michy Batshuayi to join Borussia Dortmund on loan by adding: “We took a decision. Now I think this is not important to say ‘we could have done this’ or ‘we should have done that’. We have to focus on the present to finish the season in the best way possible and not to have regrets for anything.”