Antonio Conte takes charge of his first FA Cup match this afternoon, and the Blues boss has explained how he is fully aware of the importance of the competition and focused on progressing to the next round.
Chelsea welcome League One’s Peterborough United to Stamford Bridge and, when it comes to his team selection, Conte has acknowledged it will be vital to strike a balance between offering game time to players who have not been starting regularly and fielding the strongest side possible.
‘I think in England, the FA Cup is really important because it is the oldest competition in the world and it is important to respect the tradition,’ he said.
‘The FA Cup is a good tradition in England and it is important to find the right solution. For us now, to give the opportunity to young players or some players who are not playing a lot is important, but it is also important to continue because we want to win and go forward to the next step.’
This will be Conte’s first experience of club cup competition outside his homeland and he has spoken of his experiences in similar matches, focusing on a Coppa Italia tie he played and scored in against third-tier Brescello in 1997, when Juventus were held to a surprise draw in the first leg, before winning the second leg and progressing 5-1 on aggregate.
The first-team coach explained how preparation for today's game has been exactly the same as any other as he looks to avoid an upset against the Posh, who are currently eighth in League One and have only been beaten once in their past 13 games in all competitions.
‘We have a cup in Italy and it is a good competition,’ he said. ‘Once, when I was at Juventus, we played a small team and in the first game we drew 1-1. In the second game at home we won.
‘These types of games are always very difficult if you don’t arrive with the right attention and the right focus. Also, we all know it is a really important game for them and for this reason we are preparing in the same way as all the other games in the league – the same as we prepared against Tottenham – because it’s important to have the right mentality.
‘A winning mentality is to prepare for every game in the right way – not because you are playing against a small team or another team that is playing now in League One and you think this game is easy. No, in England, easy games do not exist, also not in the FA Cup.’
Conte also highlighted Cesc Fabregas, who has been leading by example in terms of his attitude.
‘Cesc, we all know him, and I’m very pleased with his attitude, his commitment and for his work-rate in training sessions,’ said the Italian. ‘Also, when I call him during the game, it’s important for me to see the right spirit.
‘Before the game, I have to take a decision on only 11 players who can start. For sure, some players have to start on the bench, but it is important for me in every game to see which is the best solution for the team and it is also important to have all my players with the right spirit, with the right will to fight and to win – if you start or if you don’t start. Cesc has shown me great commitment always and I am pleased for this.’