Chelsea may be champions, but Antonio Conte says they shouldn’t be considered favourites for this season and even doubts their capacity to retain the league, ahead of the start of their title defence at home to Burnley on Saturday.
The Italian has been very public about his frustrations with transfer business that has left him with a depleted and short squad on the eve of the season, but his comments still mark a conspicuous downplaying of his side’s chances for a defending champion, and likely a piece of expectation management akin to his predecessor Jose Mourinho – not to mention a reminder to the Chelsea board of the need to make more signings.
Conte had earlier said Chelsea winning last season’s was “a surprise”, and seemed to intimate that it would be the same this year.
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“Honestly, if you have to give your evaluation on the card it’s right,” he said. “It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favourite. If you have to give an evaluation only on card. It was the same last season. Not one person believed Chelsea would win the title. This season, in this moment, I agree with these people who think this.”
Pressed on why, Conte said he has already explained “two or three times”, referring to discussions about the shortness of his squad. He added: “I don’t know, I think that you are better than me to evaluate before the season and to give the different position about the favourite or not favourite, and I think for me is to think to work, to work, to try to improve my players, to try to improve my team, the most important thing is to put 120% into my work, me and my staff and my players, and then we’ll see what happens.”
Conte did deny that the pressure was any greater this season, due to the expectation from winning the league.
“No. In my career, I worked always with great pressure and, I repeat, it’s normal to have this type of pressure, the most important thing is to face the pressure in the right way and sometimes you are more serious, sometimes you laugh, but it’s important to have the habit to face the pressure.”