Antonio Conte conceded that Chelsea’s title defence “never started” and a lack of consistency has made a repeat of last season’s Premier League win inconceivable.
A visibly frustrated Conte had just watched Chelsea perform flatly in losing 1-0 at West Ham United, their fourth defeat of the campaign and a result that sees them remain 11 points behind the leaders Manchester City. The defending champions have now dropped 16 points, just five short of the entire number they ceded in 2016-17, and Conte admitted that it is far short of the standard required for a realistic tilt at the top. “To talk about the title race after a defeat, I think it a bit strange,” Conte said. “Especially as this is the fourth defeat this season in 16 games.
“When you have this task it is impossible to think that you are in the title race. My experience is this: if you want to stay in the race for the title, in the first part of the season you can lose once or twice. After 16 games, if you lose four, it means you never started this race.
“I said before that this season would be very, very tough, very difficult, and this is the truth. If you want to stay in the title race, you must give continuity – continuity in the result. This is not our case this season.”
Chelsea looked laboured throughout at the London Stadium, a 69% share of possession bringing few moments of genuine threat. Their thinking rarely looked lucid and Conte said his players were fatigued, lacking the wherewithal to break West Ham’s resolve that Manchester City had shown last weekend.
“We created the chances but didn’t take them,” Conte said. “Today, many players were tired. It is normal when you play every few days. We started our pre-season with the same players, a lot are playing almost always, and you have to pay something for this.”
Conte’s demeanour was in contrast to that of the West Ham manager, David Moyes, who praised “a completely disciplined, organised performance” and said his team had built on that performance at the Etihad. “We’ve got players who can score goals, but we’ve kept a clean sheet today,” Moyes said, after watching his first win in four games as manager. “We’ve got a goal, and we had a good plan to see how we could hurt Chelsea a little, but make sure their quality and ability weren’t going to overrun us.
“All managers need wins. Coming to the club, I’ve had a pretty difficult run of fixtures and it was always going to be hard, but today we did the job and we were very close at City.
“If you were to [take that performance into account], you might say it wouldn’t be a surprise if West Ham were to get something against Chelsea.”
Moyes kept the England goalkeeper Joe Hart on the bench and was rewarded with a solid performance by Adrián, who had stood in for his team-mate at City. “Joe’s been an incredible professional,” Moyes said. “When I told him, he took it really well. I thought Adrián’s performance against City was very good, so that’s where the decision came from.”
Source: The Guardian