Conte blames 0-0 draws on fixture pile-up and tiredness

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes Chelsea's gruelling schedule and a lack of squad depth are to blame for the champions' recent struggles.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes Chelsea's gruelling schedule and a lack of squad depth are to blame for the champions' recent struggles.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON • Antonio Conte believes Chelsea's gruelling schedule and a lack of squad depth are to blame for the champions' recent struggles.

His side lacked energy and drive as they were forced to settle for a 0-0 draw against 10-man Leicester at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

For the first time in the club's history, Chelsea have endured three successive 0-0 draws in all competitions, after an FA Cup stalemate against Championship side Norwich and a League Cup blank against Arsenal.

Even the dismissal of Leicester's Ben Chilwell for two bookings could not lift the Blues, who were outplayed in the first half.

With an FA Cup replay against Norwich in midweek, Conte is concerned after the draining Christmas and New Year fixture pile-up.

"We played with tiredness. We suffered a lot in the first half and at the start of the second half," said the Chelsea manager. "We played with a lot of effort against Arsenal on Wednesday, then to play a really good team in good physical form like Leicester was difficult.

"We played with almost the same players as against Arsenal. I saw a lot of players very tired. I saw Eden (Hazard) was very tired so he came off. When I decided to put fresh energy on with Willian and Pedro, the game changed. We created chances but, at the end, the result was fair."

The Italian, who spent much of the season grumbling about the lack of signings by the club since winning the title last season, hinted that he does not have quality players in reserve to keep his team fresh and performing at a high level.

"I'm doing rotations. Against Norwich I made nine changes, against Arsenal I made 10 changes," added the Italian after his side's seventh game in 21 days. "To face all competitions is not simple. You must have a big squad to do this, otherwise you take risks to lose against teams like Leicester."

For Leicester manager Claude Puel, keeping Riyad Mahrez during this month's transfer window is a priority and he insisted the midfielder's fine display will not be one of his last in a Foxes shirt.

The Algeria international has been linked with Arsenal and Liverpool, but Puel said: "We can see he is enjoying his football, he is happy in playing, in training, he is happy with us and his team-mates.

"There is a lot of speculation about the players, but of course we are happy with him, and we want to keep our best player."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2018, with the headline 'Conte blames 0-0 draws on fixture pile-up and tiredness'. Print Edition | Subscribe