Antonio Conte sees 'two faces' of Chelsea in shock defeat to Burnley
LONDON -- Antonio Conte says he saw both sides of Chelsea in Saturday's shock 3-2 defeat against Burnley at Stamford Bridge and claimed that he might have to work on formations with 10 players after the Blues saw two players.
Gary Cahill's first competitive match as club captain lasted just 14 minutes as referee Craig Pawson showed him a straight red card for a late tackle on Steven Defour, and Cesc Fabregas received a second booking in the 81st minute after fouling Jack Cork.
Spurred on by Cahill's dismissal, Burnley surged into a 3-0 half-time lead at Stamford Bridge courtesy of two goals from Sam Vokes either side of a spectacular Stephen Ward strike, and Chelsea could not salvage a draw despite a debut goal for Alvaro Morata and David Luiz's volley in the second half.
Counting the red cards received by Victor Moses in last season's FA Cup final and Pedro Rodriguez in last weekend's FA Community Shield against Arsenal, Chelsea have now had four men sent off in their past three matches, and Conte admitted that he is concerned by the regularity of his team's disciplinary issues.
"We have to pay attention because you can see that in the last three official games, we finished twice with 10 men against Arsenal and today with nine men," he said. "Also me, I have to study a new formation with 10 players online, because when it happens with this regularity you must be worried."
Asked what he thought of referee Craig Pawson's performance that incensed much of Stamford Bridge, Conte took a long pause and then replied: "I prefer not to comment on the referee's decisions. I think that the coach can make mistakes, the players can make mistakes, the referee [too]."
But the Italian did concede that Cahill's dismissal -- and his players' reaction to it -- was the main cause of Chelsea's first opening-day defeat since 1998.
"For sure it was a key moment, because after this red card we lost our composure and we conceded three goals," he added. "We have to improve a lot on this aspect because a situation of this type can happen, but we must pay attention to try to think that there is the rest of the game to try and do our best.
"Instead we conceded three goals and the second half was very difficult to change the result, despite the great commitment, the great desire, the great will of my players. I'm very proud for this but today I saw two faces: one positive in the second half and one negative in the first half."
Conte's matchday squad selection exposed the worrying lack of depth in Chelsea's squad. Academy prospect Jeremie Boga was handed his Premier League debut in place of the injured Pedro, while the average age of the six outfield substitutes was just under 21.
The Italian, however, angrily dismissed suggestions that his choices were a message to Chelsea's board about the need for more signings. "Why? But why this question? You are not satisfied with my starting XI? You don't know me very well.
"You can see that in our preseason, in every friendly game I played the best formation and it happened also today, because my choice was to put the players we have in this moment.
"I don't like this appetite for someone to send a message. Why do I have to send a message? Why? Why? I want to win. I want to win today. I wanted to win, not to send a message to my club. Why?"
Chelsea must now take on Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley on Sunday without Cahill and Fabregas as well as Eden Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko, who remain several weeks away from full fitness. Conte also revealed that he is not yet sure whether Pedro will recover in time from an ankle knock.
Asked if he was concerned by the situation, the Italian said: "No, I'm not worried. I'm not worried because we have to trust in our work and today there were three injured players, Pedro, Hazard, Bakayoko, and one player missing for a ban, [Victor] Moses.
"In the next game I don't know if Pedro is able to recover from his injury, but for sure we'll have two players out for a ban, Cahill and Fabregas. We'll find the right solution."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.