The Blues may be in the middle of a relentless fixture schedule, but Antonio Conte has explained how he enjoys giving playing time to as many members of his squad as possible.
Following a goalless draw against Norwich on Saturday, there will be an FA Cup third-round replay against the Canaries to factor in during the next midweek slot, in between our Carabao Cup semi-final tie against Arsenal, which kicks off at Stamford Bridge this Wednesday.
At Carrow Road, Conte made nine changes from the starting 11 which had lined up at Emirates Stadium for last week’s Premier League match with the Gunners, including the return of David Luiz after his spell out injured.
‘For sure, it was good news for David Luiz to come back after injuring his knee,’ said Conte. ‘We have a lot of games to play. There are the two Carabao Cup games against Arsenal and now we have another game in the FA Cup, so there are many chances for all my players and I’m happy to give this chance to everyone because I think they deserve it.’
Despite not coming away with the win, Conte was satisfied the players gave their all against a well-organised Championship side.
‘With many of these players we played against Stoke City and won 5-0,’ he explained. ‘I’m very happy for the commitment of my players, but at the same time, this type of game is very tough and now we have to play the replay. It won’t be easy because our schedule is very busy, but we must be ready to do this.
‘Maybe in the first half we were poor offensively and we didn’t create good chances, but in the second half we created the chances to score and to win.’
Our ranks were bolstered last week with the signing of Ross Barkley from Everton. Although Conte cannot put an exact timescale on when the midfielder will be available for selection, he is delighted to have him with us and to begin working with him on the training ground.
‘Ross Barkley is a really good player,’ he said. ‘First of all, we have to get him to the best physical condition. I think he can play as a midfielder, or as a No10. Ross is a creative player and is definitely a good signing for the club.
‘I don’t know when he will be fit. On Saturday he started to work with the fitness coach. From Monday I’ll see him and then I will start to prepare a programme to have him playing quickly. It’s important for me to assess his physical condition and then to try to improve his condition and for him to work with us and our ideas. My hope is to have this player very quickly.’
Barkley has 22 international caps to his name, with the last coming in England’s friendly with Australia in May 2016. Conte is unsure whether the 24-year-old can make himself part of Gareth Southgate’s World Cup plans this summer, but is fully focused on getting him back to his best following a serious hamstring injury.
‘We are talking about a player with great talent and before this bad injury, he was with the England national team. If he has five months, I’m not too sure he deserves a call to the England team for the World Cup, but I hope so because it means he is doing very well with us.
‘I think he has the quality to score more goals, but my main priority is to convince the player to work for the team. He is a very good player and we are happy to have him in our squad.’