Honestly, title defence never took off: Conte

Pedro shooting to score Chelsea's third goal in the 3-1 win over Huddersfield. Manager Antonio Conte feels it is not realistic to talk about catching runaway leaders Manchester City.
Pedro shooting to score Chelsea's third goal in the 3-1 win over Huddersfield. Manager Antonio Conte feels it is not realistic to talk about catching runaway leaders Manchester City.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON • Chelsea manager Antonio Conte denied he was being negative when he said the Blues were not in the Premier League title race and insisted, after Tuesday's 3-1 win at Huddersfield Town, that he was simply being realistic.

The Italian had reacted to Saturday's 1-0 defeat by West Ham by saying Chelsea were not in a position to overhaul runaway leaders Manchester City and that his team's title bid had "never started".

Conceding the title early can sometimes backfire, and it would have been easy to imagine Conte's men lacking the appetite after learning that their manager has thrown in the towel, yet in the event Chelsea played like champions.

Huddersfield were outclassed, indeed a little fortunate not to be embarrassed, once Chelsea got into their smooth, attacking stride.

But despite the comfortable victory at the John Smith's Stadium, Conte still does not believe it is realistic to talk about catching Pep Guardiola's side.

"This is the truth. Manchester City in 16 games they have won 15 and drawn one. In 17 games, we have lost four games," he said.

"When you have a competitor like City that every game they are winning, it is very difficult to think that you can fight for the title. We must be realistic and to tell always the truth. I prefer to tell the truth rather than a good lie. I am this way.

"Sometimes I can be too honest but I like to speak very honestly with my players, with our fans also."

Conte added that the reality did not stop his team, who are also in the last 16 of the Champions League in which they will face Barcelona in February, from fighting till the end while hoping that City slip up.

He was also pleased with the way they bounced back against the Terriers with goals from Tiemoue Bakayoko, Willian and Pedro.

The only blemish was Laurent Depoitre's consolation goal for Huddersfield in stoppage time, but it was inconsequential and Conte is unlikely to lose sleep over it.

Besides that, Chelsea were rampant. Eden Hazard and Willian were the men the home side found most difficult to pin down, and it was the Blues' width and intelligent use of space that left David Wagner's side chasing shadows.

To add to that, the range and direction of Chelsea's passing was almost unanswerable at times.

"I think we must be very happy because from the start of the game we showed a great personality and desire to win the game against a very good team," Conte said.

"To win like that will improve our confidence, I think my players enjoyed it."

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2017, with the headline 'Honestly, title defence never took off: Conte'. Print Edition | Subscribe