Antonio Conte spoke about the importance of team shape and about his strikers in the wake of the 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid in the United States.
Two late Eden Hazard goals closed the gap after the side from the Spanish capital had gone into a 3-0 lead by half-time in Ann Arbor, and it was the manner in which his side had collectively allowed their opponents to attack that had Conte flagging up work to be done, and improvements to be made.
‘It is not easy to play this game against another great club after only two days of rest and a flight of four-and-a-half hours,’ he said. ‘I knew the team was a bit tired.
‘But today I think this match was very important for us, because after this game it is clear we need to work together always, without the ball and with the ball. If we think we can’t work together when we haven’t the ball, it is not possible for us and we risk repeating a bad season.
‘Today we weren’t a team in defensive situations. It is important to understand this because in the last game I appreciated that we were lot. Then I thought we could improve when we had the ball. Today we were better with the ball but bad without the ball.
‘It is important to keep concentration and to work together,’ the Italian added. ‘I know it is fatiguing to work without the ball but if we stay compact, like against Liverpool, we can win. If we lose this compact, if we think one, two or three players don’t want to work without the ball, it is possible we see another bad season.’
Hazard scored his goals by using his pace to latch onto long passes down the middle, evade the goalkeeper and finish coolly, and Conte assessed the Belgian’s first pre-season action.
‘Eden Hazard played 30 minutes and he is recovering a good shape. I like him in this position, like a forward, and he can be a good solution for us. Also playing as a winger. To play as a second forward he must improve his shape but he is working and he knows his shape can a lot in the same way as the other players.’
‘Batshuayi’s shape is improving and he’s starting to understand our idea of football,’ said Conte. ‘I’m happy with his commitment. He can improve a lot.
‘Ruben is a bit tired but he tried to work and to fight for the team. I’m happy with his attitude and behaviour and I know he can play in this role and play good football.
‘I can say that today Costa is a Chelsea player. He didn’t play in these games because of injury and if he solves the injury and I see in training he’s in good shape, it can be possible to see him in the next game against Milan. But I can tell only this.
‘Today Costa is Chelsea’s player. Tomorrow if you ask me if Costa will remain with us, I don’t know.’
To conclude, Conte returned to the subject of the team in general.
‘My target is to become a team. My experience as a player and a manager teaches me if you want to fight for the title you must be a team inside and outside of the pitch. It’s important to understand this and transfer this thought on to the players. We must become as a family. This is the key to switch from last season. If we don’t understand this it is no good.’