Chelsea & Conte feel the strain

Chelsea's Eden Hazard (left) and David Luiz enjoying a light moment during a session at Cobham Training Centre in London yesterday ahead of their home Champions League match against Italian Serie A side Roma. An underwhelming start with three losses
Chelsea's Eden Hazard (left) and David Luiz enjoying a light moment during a session at Cobham Training Centre in London yesterday ahead of their home Champions League match against Italian Serie A side Roma. An underwhelming start with three losses in their first eight Premier League games makes a successful European run even more imperative.PHOTO: REUTERS

Lack of rotation raises risks for coach but the recent rash of injuries gives him few options

LONDON • Chelsea's squad is being stretched thin and the strain is beginning to show on manager Antonio Conte ahead of today's Champions League home clash against Roma.

The Italian will be without several key players for the Group C match at Stamford Bridge which follows hot on the heels of Chelsea's shock 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

That loss was Chelsea's third in eight matches in the Premier League this season - only two fewer than the whole of the last campaign when Conte took them to the title in his first year in west London.

Striker Alvaro Morata missed the Palace defeat but is expected to face Roma, although N'Golo Kante and Victor Moses are both out with hamstring injuries that could sideline them for several weeks at a crucial stage of the season.

Midfielder Danny Drinkwater is also still missing.

Conte, who appeared underwhelmed by Chelsea's summer squad-strenghtening with a return to Europe looming after last season's absence, said he was left with few options.

"When there are injuries of this type, it's very difficult for us. This is the situation and we must overcome it and try to do our best," he told a news conference yesterday.

IT IS WHAT IT IS

When there are injuries of this type, it's very difficult for us. This is the situation and we must overcome it and try to do our best.

ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea's Italian manager, on injuries decimating what he perceives as an already under-strength squad.

"The problem is that the same players are always playing. In our team we have players not used to playing three games in a row. For Kante it's the first time, for Moses it's the same.

"For Morata it's the first time he will play with this team. When you have a lot of games you need to protect players. If this isn't possible I have to take a risk."

Chelsea missed out to Tottenham for the signing of the experienced Fernando Llorente during the transfer window, while Michy Batshuayi is yet to impress Conte despite his last-minute winner at Atletico Madrid that left Chelsea on top of Group C with two wins from two games.

Conte said his lack of striking depth left him with a dilemma over Morata. "I could have taken a risk to play Morata on Saturday against Palace but I am not stupid because the situation is difficult," he said.

"We have to play every three days and we're very thin on the ground (with players) at the moment. Honestly there's a risk of having other injuries.

"I hope not but I think the best way is to take it one game at a time and decide in every game which is the best formation and sometimes whether to take a risk or not."

The Chelsea manager will be up against a familiar face in Roma captain Daniele de Rossi.

The 34-year-old midfielder played under Conte in the Italian national side between 2014 and 2016 and he spoke of his admiration for his former mentor.

"If one day I am to become a coach, I will take a lot from Antonio Conte," de Rossi told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"He illuminated me, and it's not the first time I say that. It's not easy to be one of his players, but it's beautiful. Tactically he's a monster, an animal."

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2017, with the headline 'Chelsea & Conte feel the strain'. Print Edition | Subscribe