Antonio Conte: “I never, ever train for counterattack”

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Many would argue that one of the biggest reasons Chelsea is sauntering towards the Premier League title is due to their penchant for deploying, and ruthlessly carrying out, successful counterattacks.

Don’t say that to their manager Antonio Conte

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Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s FA Cup quarterfinal against Manchester United on Monday, the Italian coach seemed to be upset with the growing notion that his side are set up to counter.

Former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has been stirring the pot a little bit ahead of the clash (as only he can) when he stated that this season “to be phenomenal defensively and good in counterattack is art.”

Mourinho was of course lambasted by many for setting his teams up to counter just as Chelsea are currently doing.

“I have to tell you one thing. Not only here … but I never, ever, ever train for the counterattack. Never prepare for the counterattack. Never,” Conte said. “I think the counterattack is an option, above all, if you have this type of player, players who are very, very fast. Also Costa is a counterattacking man, and Willian and Pedro.

“It’s normal to have this situation with space, so they know what they can do. For me, it’s important to train the other aspects: when we have the ball, when we stay almost always in our opponents’ half, to prepare when we are attacking. It’s very difficult to train counterattacking but it’s not my priority.”

There’s an underlying notion here that Mourinho and Conte won’t be best of friends. You saw that in their angry exchange of words following Chelsea’s 4-0 win against United in October on Mourinho’s first return to Stamford Bridge since being fired.

Even if Conte is calling for Chelsea’s fans to respect Mourinho, expect heated scenes on the sidelines. That should be expected.

After Guus Hiddink came in on an interim basis, Conte replaced Mourinho at Chelsea and inherited the vast majority of Mourinho’s players who under-performed so badly last season. He has turned them into a ruthless winning machine in a 3-4-3 formation which sees solid defense led to rapid counters, just as we saw in Chelsea’s victory at West Ham United last week.

Maybe Mourinho, despite his obvious underlying tactics, has a point…

Looking at the stats, you can argue that Chelsea’s success this season has partly come down to counterattacks. They’ve scored more counterattacking goals than any other PL teams (5) and have the pace of the likes of Pedro, Willian, Victor Moses and Eden Hazard to hurt teams on the break.

It’s not the main reason they’re 10 points clear on top of the Premier League and favorites to get past United and make the FA Cup semifinal, but it is a big factor in Conte’s success. Even he can’t deny that.