Antonio Conte

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Conte admits nerves through narrow win over Southampton

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Antonio Conte had bad vibes about Chelsea’s visit from wounded Southampton, and his Blues didn’t make the morning at Stamford Bridge any easier on the Italian boss.

Marcos Alonso scored a free kick goal but the Blues could not find a second in a 1-0 win that had Conte proverbially watching through his fingers.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 1-0 Saints ]

Chelsea moves into a tie for second with Manchester United before the Red Devils play Sunday, and Conte is exhaling after the victory. From the BBC:

“When you do not score the second goal, you have to suffer. You are afraid at every corner and free-kick and the opponent has the chance to draw. We dominated the game, shooting 24 times, hitting the post and we needed to score the second goal to be relaxed.

The Blues outshot Saints 24-6, and Southampton only managed to put two shots on target. Chelsea hosts Bournemouth in a League Cup quarterfinal on Wednesday before returning to Premier League action at Everton on Saturday.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Southampton

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  • Chelsea leads all-time 41W-28D-28L
  • Saints have points in 3 of 5 at Stamford Bridge
  • Southampton winless in four straight league games

Chelsea returns home following an emphatic away win to meet a Southampton side fresh off embarrassment at home (Watch live Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Saints were battered 4-1 at St. Mary’s by former coach Claude Puel, while Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea rebounded from a loss at West Ham by battering Huddersfield Town 4-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Conte was asked to compare Alvaro Morata to club legend Didier Drogba, as the Spanish striker has reportedly been studying footage of the big Ivorian.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

“They are two different players with different characteristics,” he said. “Didier Drogba brought history to this club and he’s a wonderful player, a wonderful striker because he continues to play. He’s a great striker, more powerful than Alvaro but Alvaro, don’t forget, has a lot of space for improvement. He’s strong physically, he’s a technical player and I see a great future for Alvaro.”

Chelsea still won’t have David Luiz available, while Southampton has no new injury concerns despite the recent schedule congestion.

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on Southampton premonitions“‘My expectation is for us to suffer, I have this sensation, so we must pay great attention. When you play after a bad defeat, especially at home, there is great attention of the coach and the club because they don’t want to continue a bad run. They want to give a good answer against a strong team like Chelsea.”

Saints’ Mauricio Pellegrino on facing Chelsea: “We want to show our best version. Chelsea is a really difficult side but maybe we can find more space.  We have to do a really good game to have a possibility of winning, but hopefully after a difficult moment we can bounce back. In this club, we want to show we are committed to trying to be competitive, our energy and commitment to the club.”

Prediction

Saints are wounded, but Chelsea has the better depth and form. Charlie Austin or Sofiane Boufal may force a goal past Thibaut Courtois, but look for the Blues to pull out a 2-1 win.

Conte on “lucky” Man City; expects to “suffer” v. Southampton

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Antonio Conte appreciates Manchester City’s incredible recording breaking 15-game winning run but admits there is an element of luck helping out Pep Guardiola‘s men too.

[ MORE: Wenger on Ozil, Wilshere ]

Conte, who took Chelsea on a 13-game winning run last season before losing to Tottenham Hotspur on Jan. 4 when they could’ve equaled the previous record, is still hoping that his side can challenge for the title despite being 14 points behind Man City.

“They are a good team but to have 15 wins in a row, you must be also lucky because in many games they won in the last minutes. When you have this type of run, for sure, you must also be a bit lucky but they are deserving this,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho also pointed to the “luck” being in Man City’s favor and it something which is said quite a lot when a team goes on an incredible winning run. But are City really “lucky” to have grabbed late wins against the likes of Bournemouth, Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham throughout the run? Or do they just have players who are mentally focused and can deliver in key moments? It’s probably a mixture of those factors.

Conte then went on to say that his team could still defend their PL title despite City’s record-breaking start to the season.

“We must find the right way to contend the title. Not only us but Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool,” Conte said. “Time is moving on and they [Man City] are continuing to win. In the last nine game we won 7 games, drew one and lost one. The distance, the gap still improved for Manchester City. It is possible to draw away to Liverpool and lose one but now we are 14 points behind.”

So, that’s not so much a title concession from Conte but him pointing out that it will be very tough for his team to claw any points back on City. Still, it’s a little different from his comments after their loss at West Ham last weekend when he seemed to all but concede their title chances.

“So you’re saying there’s a chance….”

Heading into Chelsea’s game against Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) Conte also said he expects his team to suffer against Saints.

“Tomorrow will be very difficult,” Conte said. “Southampton are a good team with a lot of good young players with a great future and will make us suffer. They are a good team.”

In terms of Chelsea team news ahead of the game Conte revealed that David Luiz is suffering from swelling in his knee and has no return date set, while Alvaro Morata could return to the lineup after being left out for the midweek win at Huddersfield.

The Italian coach also said he will sit down with others at Chelsea to discuss potential targets in the January transfer window soon, but that the final decision on new players coming in was not his.

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.

Chelsea blame “tiredness” for West Ham loss; title hopes over?

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Chelsea simply didn’t show up against West Ham United on Saturday.

The reigning Premier League champs lost 1-0 at West Ham as Antonio Conte‘s men looked lackluster from the start and never truly recovered from Marko Arnautovic‘s early goal.

Speaking after the game, Conte revealed his disappointment at the defeat and revealed that fatigue played a big part in his team not performing.

“Our start was bad but today we played a bit tired. To face one game every two games always with the same players is very difficult,” Conte said. “And we have just started this period. You have to move the ball quickly. But I repeat, we saw today a bit of tiredness in my players, especially in the last pass, we did a lot of mistakes. We must be disappointed.”

Conte also seemed to suggest that his focus will no be on Chelsea finishing in the top four with Man City able to go 14 points clear of Chelsea with a win on Sunday.

“I repeat, we create many chances but were not able to score. We have to go and to play game by game, to be focused. Don’t forget in this league it is very difficult. There are six top teams and four go to Champions League. We have to fight and do our best,” Conte said.

Chelsea’s captain Gary Cahill echoed Conte’s sentiments and he didn’t want to blame having too many games for their poor display.

“We were well off it, we allowed them to get the early goal, we have been tight at the back recently and that was a poor one to concede. We just didn’t play our stuff. It’s frustrating,” Cahill told Sky Sports. “We were just not at the races – for whatever reason that is. It’s disappointing to come off and feel like that… This was a huge game for us. We needed to win this game. We have to reflect and try and freshen up.”

You could certainly point the finger at Conte for his team selection on Saturday.

Chelsea made just one change from their midweek draw with Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday and had the likes of Michy Batshuayi, Pedro and Willian all on the bench.

With a midweek trip to Huddersfield coming up on Tuesday, you’d have to think Conte will switch things up to try and get a reaction from his players.

Chelsea’s title hopes seem all but over and now it’s all about going far in the Champions League and finishing in the top four of the PL.

Having a small squad and being unable to cope with the rigors of European action and the PL was always likely to bite Chelsea this season. It has. And hard.