Antonio Conte says the injury problems that threaten to derail Chelsea’s season have been caused by his side’s increased workload.
Conte’s team have lost their last two Premier League matches against Manchester City and Crystal Palace as the injury bug bites ahead of Roma’s visit to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League on Wednesday.
France midfielder N’Golo Kante is sidelined for several weeks with a hamstring problem, while England midfielder Danny Drinkwater is a long-term absentee due to a calf injury.
Spain striker Alvaro Morata missed the shock 2-1 defeat at Palace with a hamstring strain, while Nigeria wing-back Victor Moses limped off during Saturday’s game after suffering a hamstring problem.
Chelsea’s lengthy injury list is a stark contrast to last season, when Conte was able to field the same starting line-up most weeks.
The Blues were able to focus on the Premier League with little disruption last term after failing to qualify for Europe.
But with the additional demands of the Champions League this season, Conte’s squad is already being stretched to breaking point.
Some reports have claimed the intense Conte is working his players too hard in training, but the Italian is convinced it is the fixture schedule that is playing havoc with his players’ fitness.
“The problem is we are playing always the same players,” Conte told reporters on Tuesday.
“And also we have players in our team who are not used to playing three games in a week. Kante, it’s the first time. For Moses, the first time.
“For Morata, it’s the first time to play regularly for his team. For Alonso it’s the same.
“When you have a lot of games, you need to rotate players. If this is not possible, I have to take risks.
“For example, against Manchester City: Morata was injured after 20 minutes. But if I hadn’t put Morata in the starting XI, you’d have told me I’m crazy. Sometimes the players need to rest.”
– Inquest –
Having expressed his frustration at Chelsea’s failure to land his top transfer targets during the close-season, Conte fears the English champions will struggle to cope with the demands of defending the title and competing in Europe.
Reportedly furious with Chelsea’s limp display at Palace on Saturday, Conte is said to have held a lengthy inquest with his team this week, accusing them of taking it easy and imploring them to raise their work-rate.
Against that troubled backdrop, Chelsea could do with a morale-boosting victory against Roma.
Chelsea top Champions League Group C after thrashing Qarabag and securing an impressive win at Atletico Madrid.
Beating the Italians would keep Chelsea on course to progress to the knockout stages as group winners.
Conte will take heart from the return to fitness of former Real Madrid striker Morata, who had scored seven times in eight appearances before being injured last month.
Michy Batshuayi gave another lacklustre display against Palace and is likely to make way for Morata.
“I could take a risk on Saturday to force Morata to play against Crystal Palace, but I’m not so stupid,” Conte said.
“Tomorrow I’m not taking a risk if I decide for Morata to play.”
Conte is well acquainted with the threat posed by Roma and admitted he tried to sign their Belgium midfielder Radja Nainggolan in the past.
“Yes, we tried to buy him. But it’s not right to speak about him,” he added.
“For me, one of the best midfielders. But he’s an opponent.”