Antonio Conte has said Ethan Ampadu will start tonight’s FA Cup third-round replay against Norwich City, and the Italian praised the attitude of the versatile 17-year-old, who can play in defence and midfield, ahead of the game.
Following a goalless draw at Carrow Road, the Blues take on the Championship side at Stamford Bridge hoping to secure the win which would set up a fourth-round tie at home to Newcastle United a week on Sunday.
Conte is expected to make a number of changes for the game and, as well as confirming David Luiz will start as the central figure in the back three, he spoke about Ampadu, who scored for our development squad in their 5-0 win over Sunderland at the weekend.
‘He will start as one of the three central defenders,’ said Conte. ‘He deserves to play. He’s showing that in every game I make this decision, like against Everton and Bournemouth. He’s shown me he is ready to play with the right concentration and be ready physically and tactically to play at this level.
‘It’s unusual for a player who is only 17 but that shows age is not important if I give you the chance to play and you repay me with a great performance. We are talking about a really great prospect for Chelsea for the present and future.’
The Italian also discussed the qualities each player in his squad must possess in order to force their way into consideration for a place in the side.
‘The most important thing in the training session is to always show great commitment and desire to fight for a chance to play. Every single player must have this desire and will to learn, improve and put yourself in contention. That’s the best way for every single player, to improve himself and show me a great desire.
‘For sure, when you have 16 or 17 seniors players, if everyone shows you great commitment you have to make a decision because you can only play with 11.’
Tonight’s game means an already packed schedule becomes even tighter, and Conte explained how the build-up of fixtures has affected his own role.
‘Last season it was my first season but we didn’t play in the Champions League and in the Carabao Cup we were out after the second game,’ the Blues boss explained.
‘This season we are in the Champions League, through to the semi-final of the Carabao Cup and we are playing in the FA Cup, so not only is it a busy period for the players, maybe more for me because I have to prepare for each game in only three days.
‘Those who know me know I prepare the game, not just to pick the 11, but from a tactical aspect. I’m working a lot in this period but that’s my job and we must be happy because it means we are in four competitions. It's not enough to work only here [at Cobham]. I continue to work at my house, to watch videos.’
He went on to discuss why, in terms of importance, creating a successful side far outweighs the needs of individual players.
‘Every manager I had in my career when I was a player, the first thing they taught me was that it’s not important to make players happy,’ he said. ‘The most important things are to win, to be honest and loyalty. If you are this way, nobody can say anything to you.
‘Maybe in the first moment someone can be angry but after they reflect they realise you are honest and every choice is for the team. Not because you have more sympathy for one player. I learnt that from [Marcello] Lippi, [Giovanni] Trapattoni, [Arrigo] Sacchi, many coaches I had in my past.’