The international break and some injury concerns mean preparation for Crystal Palace’s visit has been difficult but Antonio Conte says he and his players are ready for the challenge.
The Eagles make the short journey to south-west London on the back of three consecutive victories without conceding. The Blues have been in equally good form of late, but Conte explained at his pre-match press conference at Cobham why it hasn’t been easy to plan for tomorrow’s fixture.
‘This week we were faced with a lot of problems,’ Conte said. ‘Tomorrow will be a very difficult game for us for many reasons.
‘After the international break it’s not easy. Some came back with some problems. For sure it’s important to check two or three situations and then to make the best decision tomorrow.
‘We must pay great attention. It’s a game of fundamental importance. Don’t forget there are 10 games to play and we hope to finish the season with great success for us, for the club and for the fans.
‘In my past I lived two different [title-challenging] experiences, one positive and another negative. For this reason, I like to repeat we need 21 points to be champions.’
Conte explained why he is anticipating a tough encounter at the Bridge tomorrow.
‘I remember very well the last game against Crystal Palace. We deserved to win but we also suffered.
‘They have a lot of great players – Benteke is a top player, the same with Zaha, Townsend is another player I like a lot, Cabaye, Puncheon, a lot of great players.
‘If you ask me why they are in this position, I don’t know. It’s very strange. When you have this team with these great players it can happen, like with Chelsea last season.
‘They have won the last three games; in the last six games they are sixth in the table. We have to pay great attention.’
John Terry is fit, Conte confirmed. He said it’s best to wait before discussing the captain’s future. The right time for that will come.
It was a sentiment he echoed when the discussion turned to Eden Hazard’s future. Spanish media have linked the Belgian with a move away this summer.
‘Is that true? I don’t know. I’m repeating always the same thing, that now it’s important for my players to focus on the present and not look too far forward, because it’s very dangerous.
‘The only thing I can say is that Eden is a Chelsea player, we are happy with him and he is happy with us. I don’t see a problem with him.’
Conte said he is confident Hazard will not only start tomorrow but also play well. He missed the game at Stoke through injury.
The boss added that hearing his players linked with other top teams makes him ‘proud’ because it means he and they have been doing a great job. He also stated it was an understandable ploy from other clubs to try and unsettle his players, but that he was concentrated on keeping them focused firmly on the job in hand. There is a title to be won, but plenty of work remains.
‘Football is strange. Football is full of surprises. I repeat: in my experience as a footballer I won a lot, but I think I lost more. For this reason, I want to keep our feet on the ground. This is very important for me and my players.
‘Also, after this type of season, hard work, a lot of difficulties to overcome, I think we deserve to win, but there are 10 games to go, and for sure our opponents don’t want to accept that Chelsea are the champions.
‘For this reason, we have to pay great attention in these 10 games and try to get three points tomorrow at home. It will be very difficult.’