Antonio Conte is ready to trust an “improved” Michy Batshuayi and is strongly considering a start for youth graduate Jeremie Boga, as he seeks to solve an attacking selection headache for the champions’ opening Premier League match at home to Burnley on Saturday.
The Italian confirmed Pedro is suffering an ankle injury from last week’s Community Shield match with Arsenal, meaning he will join Eden Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko on the sidelines. With new signing Alvaro Morata still working on his match fitness and Diego Costa – who is now at the centre of a legal process with the club – out of favour ahead of a likely exit, it leaves Conte badly short of attacking options at the start of his side’s title defence.
The Chelsea manager confirmed Batshuayi will lead the line after an impressive pre-season when the Italian realised the message had begun to sink in for the striker, while club sources also say that Conte has on the training ground been considering a reshuffle that will most likely midfielder Boga.
While that still depends on the readiness of Morata, Conte intimated the Spanish striker is not fully fit, and the issue highlights both the shortness of Chelsea’s squad at the moment and the complications of the Costa situation.
Conte said recently there is no way back for last season’s top scorer, and that stance has been made even more concrete by the fact the club are now involved in a legal process with the player following public criticism from his lawyer last week, ahead of a near-inevitable move to Atletico Madrid.
The Italian nevertheless expressed his full trust in Batshuayi, who he praised for adapting to his system. Conte had previously been cool on the striker due to a perceived struggle to follow the manager’s instructions and willing to sell him, but that stance has changed after an impressive preseason when the penny dropped.
How Chelsea could line up next season
“We worked very hard with him last season,” the Chelsea boss said. “Last season he didn’t play a lot and in this season I think he adapted in our style of football. And for sure he has a lot of space to improve, he is a young player and he needs to continue to work and to improve.”
Morata has appeared on the left in pre-season and while that remains an option for Burnley depending on his sharpness, Conte has been working on a system that involves Boga. It would mark a significant move at at time when Chelsea have been criticised for refusing to use young players and letting them go on loan, although the Italian defended the stance on the basis the club need to see if they can handle first-team pressure.
“This question is not easy. When you speak about pressure with me and I am used to the pressure. For the young players it’s difficult because they are not used to it. They can pay from the pressure.
“It’s difficult to judge young players only from training sessions. There are moments when you have to take risks because you haven’t got other possibilities. You have to cope with the young player.”
Kenedy is expected to be the next player to go on loan, although there are complications over what was a prospective deal with Newcastle United.
Conte meanwhile reiterated his happiness at the club, when asked about predictions that he would not last the season due to dissatisfaction with transfer business.
“My state of mind is clear, and at the moment I signed a new contract, and then I decided to stay, to work for this club, and then to try and give every day 120% in the work for my club, for my players, yeah, then, the situation is very clear and I’m happy to do this job, and I’m trying… I’m trying, no, I’m doing my best every day.”
Asked whether it would be a few weeks until the Premier League sees “the real Chelsea” Conte said he expected a statement from the very first game against Burnley.
“I hope and I want to see the real Chelsea tomorrow because I think that now the season is starting and we must be ready. We must be ready also if in this moment many players are missing and we have to go with these players, we have to try play good football. For sure, it won’t be easy in this part of the season but I don’t want to find any excuse for me, for my staff or for my players.
“We have to go to fight, try to win with these players. It’s not important who is injured. It’s important to do our best and that’s the most important thing. If our best will bring us to win us the game then it’s right. The most important thing, I repeat, is to put 120 per cent.”