Conte: Starting a new path

Antonio Conte says he will consider making changes for the visit of Qarabag tomorrow with our busy fixture schedule this month in mind.

At Cobham this afternoon, Conte conducted his first Champions League press conference since taking the reins at Stamford Bridge and expressed his excitement at leading the Blues on our return to the competition after a rare year without.

What it also means is that he will have a greater number of games to manage his squad through before Christmas than he did during our brilliant 2016/17 campaign. That will influence the team he picks tomorrow.

‘It’s very important to have experience as a player and also as a coach in this competition because you understand the level,’ Conte noted.

‘The English teams have another difficulty because the league is very tough here. In my past sometimes before a Champions League game I could rest players. In England it is not easy to do this. If you want to do this, you risk a lot.

‘When you play against a medium team you know you risk losing the game [in England]. You know very well in this league there are six or seven teams ready to fight not only for the title, but also for a place in the Champions League and the Europa League. You are never relaxed in England.

‘We played a tough game against Leicester, we spent a lot of energy,’ Conte added.

‘To play seven games in 21 days is not easy. For this reason, it’s normal to prepare some rotations.

'When you make decisions there is always a risk. The risk could be to play with the same players as against Leicester, and then after the game [you’re asked] why you didn’t change the team because the team was tired. 

‘I trust all the players in my squad. There is the necessity to rotate and play game by game. I am very calm about this because I trust my players. They must feel totally involved in this process.’

One player unlikely to feature is Danny Drinkwater after he picked up a muscular injury in his calf in training yesterday. Conte says Eden Hazard will be named on the bench again as his recovery continues to be carefully managed.

Conte also explained why tomorrow’s opponents will provide a tough test at the start of their maiden Champions League outing.

‘Qarabag are a good team. It’s the first time they’re playing this competition. I know a lot of their players very well because I played against Azerbaijan in qualifying when I was Italy coach. They have a lot of players who play for the national team.

‘I like to call these kind of games tricky games. We played two days ago, and then we have to play tomorrow, and then we have to play a difficult game against Arsenal. We must pay attention.’

And looking at the bigger picture, the boss assessed our chances of repeating what we so famously managed in 2012: becoming European champions.

‘For sure in the Champions League we are starting a path. Remember before winning a competition you need to work very hard and improve every year step by step, and arrive then to be ready for Real Madrid or Bayern Munich or Juventus. You don’t create a big, strong team easily.

‘It’s a great competition and we must be proud to play it. We must understand we are starting a path. I hope this path is short. We will try to be competitive in a short time and not wait three, four or five years.’