Antonio Conte says despite the quality of our performance at Brighton on Saturday, there is no guarantee he will name the same starting line-up for tomorrow’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Arsenal as the Blues look to secure another trip to Wembley.
It’s all to play for in north London following a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago, and the Blues head into the decisive derby in good shape having returned to winning ways at the weekend.
Conte spoke to the media at Cobham this afternoon and provided some news regarding player availability ahead of the game.
‘Morata and Fabregas are out, they are not available for the Arsenal game,’ said Conte. ‘I have to check a couple of other situations in order to make the best decision but for sure they are out.
‘He has a problem in his back, he’s injured,’ added the Italian, when asked about the nature of Morata’s problem.
Conte will, however, be able to call upon the services of Andreas Christensen, who was taken off at the weekend with a head injury, and Pedro, who served a one-game ban at the AMEX Stadium, and he explained why he is yet to decide on the team which will start at the Emirates.
‘I have another night before I decide the starting 11,’ he said. ‘Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.’
With just over a week until the closure of the transfer window, Conte confirmed he expects Kenedy to join Newcastle on loan for the remainder of the campaign.
‘Yes, I think he’s going on loan to Newcastle,’ said the Blues boss. ‘We are talking about a young player with great potential. At this moment in his career he has to play with regularity.
‘To go to Newcastle is a great challenge for him. This way is a great way for the club, we did the same with Andreas Christensen who is now a Chelsea player and always in the starting 11.
‘It’s a good opportunity but he must know he has to be ready to fight to play for Newcastle. Last season, in six months at Watford, Kenedy struggled and played only 24 minutes, but now he’s more ready, he’s played many games with us and he can show his potential by going on loan.
‘As you know very well, if the club decide to send one player on loan then we have to buy another player or work with a young player, like [Dujon] Sterling, from the Academy. I’m ready for both cases and the club has to decide. If there is news the club will inform you.’
After reaching the FA Cup final last May, victory tomorrow would secure another trip to Wembley, and Conte wants his players to make the most of a big opportunity.
‘For sure there is a target for both teams, to reach the final of the competition,’ said Conte. ‘That’s a good target for us and Arsenal, and for this reason I think after a 0-0 [in the first leg] the game will be very open.
‘For myself, our players and fans it’s an important target. In my first one-and-a-half seasons I have the opportunity to win the league, play the FA Cup final, Community Shield and the Carabao Cup final. But to reach the final we have to play against Arsenal, which is always a big challenge and a big game, they want to go to the final in the same way as we do.’
With Alexis Sanchez having now completed his transfer to Manchester United and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is cup-tied, moving in the opposite direction, Conte was asked if he felt the fact both players would be missing is an advantage for his team.
‘I think Arsenal have a good squad and if you remember the game at home in the league Sanchez didn’t start,’ said the Blues boss. ‘In the Carabao Cup he played only 10 minutes. He only played in the away game in the league and we were winning 2-1 with four minutes to go, I don’t see any advantage with this situation.
‘I must be honest. We start 50-50. If we score we have a little advantage but they have a big advantage to play at their stadium so for this reason we start the game with the same probability to reach the final.’
Conte also gave his thoughts on the other semi-final between Manchester City and Bristol City.
'Manchester City have a good advantage because they won 2-1 in the first leg and they are a really great team, but in this country, every game is not easy and in this trophy I think Man City have struggled a lot to go to the next round, with penalty shoot-outs, and it was the same for us against Norwich in the FA Cup. In this country there is no easy game, you must be prepared to fight every game.'
Tomorrow’s game in London will be the fifth meeting, including the Community Shield, between ourselves and the Gunners this campaign, following three last season, and Conte spoke about some of the previous meetings, as well as the type of test he expects this time around.
‘Last season we saw two different games, the first was a disaster for us because we were losing 3-0 after 40 minutes but that game changed a lot of things for us. In the second game at home we won 3-1, Giroud scored after 92 minutes otherwise it would have finished 3-0 like the first game.
‘This season the first game ended 0-0, then 2-2 and 0-0 in the Carabao Cup first leg. There are two teams with the same values. When you play a lot and the final result is always in the balance it means the two teams are very close.
‘When you play against Arsenal, for sure you must be prepared to suffer without the ball because they like to be offensive and bring many players in the box, finding combinations between the strikers, midfielders and defenders.
‘It will be important to be compact without the ball but Arsenal know when we have the ball we are dangerous.’