Football: Conte hints at more new faces

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas (far left) and Alvaro Morata look on as team-mate N'Golo Kante attempts to block a pass during a training session at the Singapore American School.
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas (far left) and Alvaro Morata look on as team-mate N'Golo Kante attempts to block a pass during a training session at the Singapore American School.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Blues manager wants strong title defence after flops by champs in last two seasons

The lessons from Leicester City's as well as Chelsea's own underwhelming title defences are weighing on Antonio Conte's mind as the Blues manager continues to try and strengthen his squad ahead of the new English Premier League (EPL) season.

The defending champions have spent about £130 million (S$231.24 million) bolstering their squad, including splashing out a club-record fee of £60 million for the services of Spanish forward Alvaro Morata - and for good measure, according to Conte.

The Italian said: "We may have won the title last season, but this season is a different story.

"You all know very well what happened in last two years, with Leicester and Chelsea before them (having a poor title defence). For this reason we must pay great attention. Every season is a big challenge."

Leicester struggled mightily last season, flirting with relegation before eventually finishing 12th. Chelsea themselves had an equally miserable title defence under Jose Mourinho two seasons ago. The Portuguese was sacked before Christmas, with the team 16th in the table. They eventually finished 10th.

In addition to Morata, Chelsea have brought in Germany defender Antonio Rudiger, France midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko and Argentinian goalkeeper Willy Caballero.

Still, Conte is refusing to rule out more additions. He said: "I speak everyday with the club (about transfers), we have a good idea what are the positions we need to improve."

TRANSFER TALK

I speak everyday with the club (about transfers), we have a good idea what are the positions we need to improve.

ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea manager, on the possibility of making more signings during this transfer window.

The 47-year-old is at least encouraged by his side's preparations thus far, with the fiery and demanding Italian pleased by the commitment and hard work shown by his charges.

Speaking ahead of today's International Champions Cup Singapore match against Inter Milan, he said: "It is important to have a bit of time to adapt to our methods and philosophy,

"But I see great will from (Morata) to learn these things quickly. "I think Rudiger could play part of the game (against Inter). He arrived and trained with us today, but it is important to find a good fit for him and the team as soon as possible."

But Bakayoko, like star forward Eden Hazard, is unlikely to be fit for the start of the season. They are still on the treatment table with injuries. Conte was unwilling to state an exact return date for either player, but remained adamant that neither would be rushed back before they were 100 per cent fit.

When asked if the injuries would result in young reserves getting more first-team chances however, he was less certain.

"With youngsters it is always very difficult, because there is always great debate over them,"he said. "In this pre-season I think every young player's attitude is very good, but we will go back Cobham (Chelsea's training ground) before we make a decision."

He was also quick to deny TV pundit and former Manchester United captain Gary Neville's claim that managers these days were afraid to give young players a chance.

"I tell you only one thing - if a young player is good and strong, why not (let him play)?" he said.

"I played my first game when I was 16, but I was with Lecce fighting relegation, not with Juventus challenging for the title."

Chelsea play their last pre-season game today, before their Aug 6 clash with Arsenal for the English Community Shield.

The Blues have had a hectic pre-season, playing friendlies in China and Singapore, but Conte believes that such a travel schedule is part and parcel of modern football.

"Pre-season now for every team is like this. You are very lucky to have even one week at home to prepare," he said.

"To have this type of pre-season is not easy for the players, but this is modern football."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2017, with the headline 'Conte hints at more new faces'. Print Edition | Subscribe