Antonio Conte has warned that Chelsea will find it difficult to defend the title after their shock defeat by Crystal Palace and questioned whether his squad is strong enough to compete on several fronts.
In an echo of his frustration in the summer about the club’s failure to acquire a number of key transfer targets in preparation for their involvement in the Champions League Chelsea’s manager bemoaned his team’s lack of depth after an insipid performance away to the Premier League’s bottom side led to the champions slipping nine points behind Manchester City at the top.
Conte’s dissatisfaction was clear. Although the Italian refused to criticise his players for a lack of effort against Palace, he suggested Chelsea may have to downgrade their sights for the season and warned that a mounting injury list has left them vulnerable before they host Roma in the Champions League on Wednesday.
“We mustn’t be happy,” Conte said. “This season will be very difficult for us. For this reason we have to put 150% in; 100% won’t be enough. I have players with a great will to work and fight. For sure we have to find the strength to overcome this moment. Everyone can see our situation.
“I think every season is different. Last season is the past. Now it is another squad, different players and for this reason if we compare last season we didn’t play Europa League or Champions League. This season we are facing four competitions and we are having a few problems doing this. When you have a few injuries, you are in trouble.”
Chelsea travelled to Selhurst Park without Danny Drinkwater, N’Golo Kanté and Álvaro Morata and the gaps in their squad were further exposed when Victor Moses limped off with a hamstring injury that could keep him out for at least a month. Palace, winless and goalless in their first seven league matches, defended their 2-1 lead with surprising comfort after half-time.
Conte’s side lacked a spark throughout and while Chelsea toiled on their way to their third defeat in eight top-flight matches, City were following up their recent win at Stamford Bridge by thrashing Stoke City 7-2. But although Chelsea dropped to fifth place after a second successive league defeat, Conte urged them not to worry about whether City are unstoppable.
“You know very well the potential of the other teams but it is important for us to look at ourselves,” he said. “This season will be difficult but also we have to understand we have to try to build something important for the future, to give the opportunity to the new players to have more experience in this league, to give the opportunity to young players to show they deserve to stay and play for Chelsea. We must have patience this season to understand it won’t be easy.”
Gary Cahill urged Chelsea to go on the kind of relentless winning run that resulted in them taking control of the title race after a slow start last season. “City are blowing teams away,” the defender said. “Outside of our game against them, seven goals again they put in today. They are in a rich vein of form, so, yeah, we need to go on a run. Without getting carried away, it’s early and if you can be in and around by January time, then it’s a decent position.
“Today’s opportunity has gone by, though, and we let that slip. That’s disappointing. We are in a bad bit of luck, too. Everyone knows the squad is not absolutely massive and we are missing key players. We have to hope Victor’s not too bad.”
One piece of encouraging news for Chelsea, who are top of their Champions League group after opening with two victories, is that Morata could return from a hamstring injury against Roma. They struggled without the Spanish striker against Palace, with Michy Batshuayi failing to impress. The Belgian reacted poorly when he was substituted early in the second half. “I didn’t see this,” Conte said. “But it is normal to be angry after a bad performance – but every player had a bad performance.”
Conte was evasive when asked if he has faith in Batshuayi’s ability. “I trust in every player and try to give everyone the opportunity to take the chance. But also because we have Morata and then Batshuayi. The performance of the whole team was bad. Not one or two players.”