Antonio Conte blamed player fatigue as his side were held to their third goalless draw in a row against Leicester on Saturday, with the Italian having little time to reflect on the performance as an FA Cup replay looms in midweek.
Chelsea faced Arsenal in their Carabao Cup semi-final fewer than 72 hours prior to the 0-0 result at Stamford Bridge, Conte making only two changes in between. With the Blues welcoming the visit of Norwich to south-west London on Wednesday for their FA Cup third round replay, Conte is finding his squad stretched to the limit.
“We played with almost the same players as against Arsenal,” he said. “My plan was to play with one team [in the] FA Cup against Norwich, and then to play these two games with almost the same players. But I think today I saw a lot of players very tired.”
The run of games without a victory – in which Chelsea have gone 276 minutes without scoring a goal – will not do Conte’s belief that the club’s summer recruitment failed to meet his demands any good at all. With plenty more fixtures on the horizon including the return of the Champions League combined with the never-ending talk of his summer departure, no matter how often he disputes it, their season is at risk of hitting a flat line.
Leicester were reduced to 10 men on the 68th minute when Ben Chilwell’s tackle on Victor Moses earned him a second yellow. Conte, having already rung the changes in replacing Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas with Willian and Pedro, failed to make the most of having both an extra body and fresh legs in attack.
“We suffered a lot the first half, we suffered a lot at the start of the second half,” added Conte. “Then I think when I decided to put fresh energy, the game has changed.
“We tried to create a chance to score. We did not suffer defensively, and then we tried to win the game. I think at the end the result was fair.”
This is the first time since 1993 Chelsea have started a calendar year without a win in four games.
Off-form Alvaro Morata, who led the line for Chelsea, is now without a goal in five games. When asked whether tiredness was affecting the striker too, Conte looked to deflect any direct criticisms.
“The problem is for the team, not only for Morata,” he claimed. “Because compared with last season we are conceding less. We are showing great solidity defensively.
“But we are showing not great quality with our finishing, this is the truth.
“A lot of times at corners the defenders had the right chance to score and we didn’t take the chance. We have to try to improve under this aspect.“
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