Conte waves the white flag on Blues' title defence

Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata gets to grips with West Ham defender Winston Reid on Saturday. The defending champions have already lost four times this season, once fewer than the whole of last season.
Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata gets to grips with West Ham defender Winston Reid on Saturday. The defending champions have already lost four times this season, once fewer than the whole of last season.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Antonio Conte has conceded that Chelsea's Premier League title defence was over before it began.

The Blues manager saw his side fall 0-1 at West Ham on Saturday, meaning they have dropped 16 points from as many games - five fewer than the whole of last season.

"If you want to stay in the title race, you can lose once or twice in this period," he said. "After 16 games, if you lose four games, it means we never started this race."

He then reeled off the setbacks. Defeat at home by Burnley in their opener. Beaten and outplayed by Manchester City. A shock collapse against Crystal Palace, and then losing to the struggling Hammers.

"I think you can justify the defeat against City as we played after two days (following a Champions League game)," he added.

"But then when you lose to Palace at the bottom and now lose again against West Ham, which is in a bad position (19th at kickoff)... it means you are not in the title race."

SPLUTTERING FORM

If you want to stay in the title race you can lose once or twice... After 16 games, if you lose four games, it means we never started this race.

ANTONIO CONTE, Blues manager, admits his side have blown hot and cold this term.

The Italian has to go back almost to the previous decade to find a season where he failed in the league as a manager. That was at Serie A side Atalanta, where he was sacked in January 2010.

But he knows this campaign has been a disappointing one despite Chelsea's progression to the last 16 of the Champions League and the last eight of the League Cup.

He made it clear he believes one of the reasons for his side's stuttering progress this season is the lack of options in his squad.

"A lot of players were tired," he said. "We started the pre-season with the same players, the same players are almost always playing and for sure you have to pay.

"If you remember, I said it would be very, very tough, it would be very difficult."

Transfers have been gnawing at Conte for two windows now and he will be displeased if the next one, which opens in three weeks, passes without reinforcements.

One player whom Chelsea covet is Everton midfielder Ross Barkley, although Conte tried not to be too vocal about transfers in his post-match press conference.

When asked about signing targets, he said: "I don't want to talk about this because we've just started December and there's a month before January.

"I think it's better to speak about this topic with the club and tell my opinion."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2017, with the headline 'Conte waves the white flag on Blues' title defence'. Print Edition | Subscribe