04 Feb Conte shocked
Defeat at Arsenal weighs heavily on Antonio Conte’s mind and was the shock which spurred Chelsea to the top of the Premier League.
Chelsea lost 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, a defeat which prompted a change of formation to 3-4-3 and sparked a 13-game winning run in the Premier League.
“For me it was a shock,” said Conte, whose Chelsea side play Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
“Usually, my teams are not used to conceding three goals after the first half.
“I tried to transfer this shock on to my players, to avoid it happening again in the future.
“It was a bad defeat, 3-0 after the first half. And in my mind it’s present, it’s always present, this defeat.
“I hope (it is) also in the mind of my players.”
The Blues have 15 wins in 17 league games since, the January 4 loss at Spurs and Tuesday’s draw at Liverpool the exceptions.
Chelsea lead by nine points from second-placed Tottenham and Saturday’s opponents Arsenal, who are behind Spurs on goal difference.
Conte gave short shrift to claims by Pep Guardiola that the title is Chelsea’s, describing the Manchester City boss’ comments as “normal” in a bid to unsettle a rival.
Conte, a multiple Serie A winner as player and manager with Juventus, said: “It’s normal, a mental strategy that every single coach tries to use.
“If someone thinks that the league is finished, I’m not so sure.
“Anything can happen. It’s important to keep the antennae very high.
“I want to have this tension, this right tension. There are 15 games to play and there are a lot of great teams behind us.”
Conte watched City’s 4-0 win at West Ham on Wednesday, which highlighted the quality of those chasing Chelsea.
The Italian added: “We all know the real potential of Manchester City.”
City led Chelsea by eight points after six games, following the Blues’ losses to Liverpool and Arsenal in September. Now Pep Guardiola’s men are 13 points behind Conte’s side.
“The situation can change very quickly,” he said.
“In that moment City had seven (sic) points more than Chelsea.
“There are 15 games (left) and we must pay great attention to reply to Pep.”
Conte reacted to Chelsea’s first-half implosion at the Emirates Stadium by changing formation to three at the back.
“We’d never tried this solution in our training sessions,” Conte said.
“The first time (was) during the game. In my mind, there was this option.
“I’m very happy to change the system because now we are top of the league.”
N’Golo Kante was a Premier League champion last season and is on course to repeat the feat after swapping Leicester for Chelsea.
“If it is so simple, next season I think every team would pay £100million for N’Golo and would be sure to win the title,” said Conte, with a smile.
“First of all, we didn’t win the title this season (yet). I hope (we do).
“If this happens, for N’Golo it would be a great achievement.
“But I don’t trust in the theory that you can win only because of one player.
“Win, lose or draw, the team is together.”
The France midfielder was left trailing by Mesut Ozil in the loss at Arsenal, but has been consistently brilliant since and was “outstanding” at Liverpool on Tuesday night, said Conte.
The Chelsea head coach added: “I think he can improve a lot still, to try to look always forward, to try and play forward.”
Chelsea’s lead would be 12 points had Diego Costa converted a penalty at Anfield.
The striker, who has scored 15 times this season, was once again linked with a mega-money move to China on Friday, with reports in Spain suggesting that the 28-year-old will move at the end of the season.
Conte insisted Costa is focused on the present, but would not look beyond the end of the current season.
“Every week I hear a lot of news, a lot of speculation about Diego,” Conte said.
“I think now the most important thing is to be focused on this championship.”