Antonio Conte is determined for his team to continue the good work on display in recent weeks and he also spoke about the role the fans can play when the club host Manchester United on Sunday.
The Italian took his seat in front of the television cameras and a packed media room at Chelsea’s Cobham training centre to answer the journalists’ questions ahead of the weekend’s showpiece fixture against Manchester United.
First up, he provided team news, starting with his skipper after reports he would be unavailable.
“John Terry is in good shape,” Conte said. “He solved the problem with his ankle. This week he trained very well and he’s available for the game.
“Willian came back on Thursday morning. He has had two training sessions with us. I spoke with the player, and also Oscar, who was back in Brazil after the death of his grandfather. In this situation it’s very important to consider all aspects. I also have tomorrow to see the situation.”
Conte later said he would be without Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic once more as both players continue their recovery from small muscular injuries. He hopes to welcome them back soon, as well as Kurt Zouma, who this week has trained with the development squad and who is due to link up with the first team group on Monday.
The attention then turned to the return of Jose Mourinho. Conte’s message was clear.
“He was an important manager for Chelsea. With the club and the players, he wrote a part of the story of this club.
“He deserves a good reception. When you win three championships you remain in the heart of the fans, that’s normal. Then, after the whistle, he becomes like the players of Manchester United, an enemy.
“I have great respect for him. He’s a great manager, he has won a lot in his career and I think he deserves maximum respect.”
Paul Pogba is one of the men Mourinho has to work with now and he is very well known to Conte, who brought him to Juventus from Manchester United in 2012. Our boss said he is one of a number of players we must watch out for – he also namechecked Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and that the key to success on Sunday is “finding the right solution with and without the ball”.
That is likely to mean continuing with the 3-4-3 formation that served us so well against Hull and Leicester.
“We changed the system of play. The team took a lot of benefit from this change. The players found the right suit with this type of work. We are more compact without losing our danger in offensive situations.
“We know we must continue to work to progress in this way. This week I am seeing the right commitment and work-rate from the players, and I see players who trust this system and this type of work.
“The last game we beat a good team who won the title last season. On Sunday, we face another great team and I want to see progress compared to the Liverpool and Arsenal games, and I am confident about that.”
Since we were last in action, Man United have played twice, drawing 0-0 at Anfield and beating Fenerbahce 4-1 in the Europa League last night.
Those games have given Conte some food for thought and he considered what advantages we may or may not have on Sunday.
“I watched the Liverpool game and it was a very tough game between two good teams who will fight for the title until the end of the championship.
“It was a tactical game. We saw two teams very close who paid great attention, above all when they were without the ball. On Sunday it will be a tactical game. When two great teams like Chelsea and Manchester United face each other that is normal.
“I watched the game yesterday and I saw the players who will probably start on Sunday,’ Conte continued.
“I don’t want this type of advantage because it means you aren’t playing in the Champions League or the Europa League. Chelsea must play this type of tournament during the week.
“When you have the possibility to play in Europe you can give chances to other players who every day have training sessions and work very hard. Chelsea this season can’t do this. This is not an advantage.
“The only advantage we have is that we play at home with our fans. They have a very important role on Sunday to support us.”