ROME • Antonio Conte's return to Italian football on Tuesday proved such a chastening experience that he worries they could be set for a "very difficult" season as he watched his Chelsea side dismantled by Roma in the Champions League.
The downbeat manager said Chelsea "lacked everything" in the 3-0 capitulation in Group C, equalling the biggest loss he has suffered in his Chelsea reign, and needed to rediscover their hunger for battle quickly.
Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, whose second-half saves kept the score down, was also baffled by how the Premier League champions lost their "fighting spirit" after half-time.
The Blues went a goal down after 38 seconds, the first of a Stephan El Shaarawy first-half double. After the break, they were so disorganised at the back and careless with their distribution that they bore no resemblance to the efficient outfit who were so hard to breach last season.
After Diego Perotti made it 3-0 to seal the win, Conte told BT Sport: "Roma showed more will to fight and more desire to win the game.
"When you concede three goals, you must be worried. It means something doesn't work."
Talking to Sky Sports, he added: "This season will be very difficult if we don't understand quickly the right way that we have to go.
When you concede three goals, you must be worried. It means something doesn't work.
ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea manager, on his team's limp display.
"Last season, we showed great hunger, great will to do something of importance.
"We won the league and did a miracle. But if we want to be competitive this season, we have to avoid these ups and downs. A great team must have stability, you must have consistency, and great desire to be protagonists in every game. At this moment, we are struggling a lot to find this type of balance."
Conte has cut a restless figure all season as Chelsea underwhelm in their Premier League title defence, lying nine points behind leaders Manchester City.
Increasing media speculation about Conte being replaced at Stamford Bridge by a former boss, his compatriot Carlo Ancelotti, also left him uncharacteristically irritable at a news conference last week.
NO TIME TO LOSE
I don't know why in the second half we dropped our fighting spirit... We have to fight back on Sunday.
THIBAUT COURTOIS, Chelsea custodian, on regrouping quickly for Manchester United's visit in the Premier League.
Yet the former Italy and Juventus boss seems even more exasperated with what he is seeing on the field, Chelsea's woeful defending in Rome's Stadio Olimpico making him wish aloud that such a performance was for "one night only".
The evidence, though, is that a lack of confidence is infecting his rearguard, as shown in particular by the lack of communication between Antonio Rudiger and his fellow defenders which led to El Shaarawy's second goal.
"I don't know why in the second half we dropped our fighting spirit and our mentality," Courtois told BT Sport. "We have to fight back on Sunday (in the Premier League clash with Manchester United) and show the fans this was an off-day."
Chelsea, on seven points, can still qualify from Group C, as Conte's side are four points above third-placed Atletico Madrid and can go through with a win in their next game against Qarabag in Azerbaijan on Nov 22.
In a group where they were considered outsiders, Roma are now leaders on eight points with two games to go. A draw in their next game against Atletico would see Eusebio di Francesco's side through to the knockout round.
"We've shown that we're an improving side. We mustn't stop now, though," the coach said. "We have to push on from here."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE