Chelsea boss Antonio Conte dismisses reports of player discontent
LONDON -- Antonio Conte responded to suggestions of player unrest at his training methods by insisting that Chelsea are working "70 percent less" at Cobham this season and that a shortage of first-team players is the "big problem" behind the club's worsening injury crisis.
Chelsea face Watford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday without N'Golo Kante or Victor Moses, who are both sidelined with hamstring injuries, while David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko picked up calf and groin problems respectively during Wednesday's 3-3 draw with Roma in the Champions League.
A report in The Times on Friday claimed that Chelsea players are growing increasingly frustrated with Conte's intensive training sessions amid a poor run of results, and believe they could be responsible for the recent wave of muscular injuries that has swept through the squad.
Asked if he was aware of any unrest among his squad, Conte said: "I don't know about this. I have my methods. They are the same as last season when we won the league. Honestly, I think we are working maybe 70 percent less this season.
"Maybe for this reason we are having trouble [with results]. On tactical and physical aspects, [we are working] less. We are playing every three days. When you play every three days it's impossible to work, above all on the physical aspects.
"On the tactical aspects you have to work less and pay less attention to every detail. We are doing this."
I ask Conte if he's had to change training in response to injuries. He reiterates that lack of players, not training, is the "big problem"— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) October 20, 2017
Conte instead suggested that the size of his squad is a bigger factor in their current injury crisis, in what appeared to be another message to the Chelsea board after a troubled summer of recruitment.
"I think that when you have to play four competitions, [working less in training] is the path you must follow," he added.
"But it's normal. I repeat: the problem is to play every game with the same players. That's a big problem. It's impossible for these players to work apart of the games. The game is not training. It's different. You can train only a part of your fitness, metabolic, but you lose the strength.
"If you have many players [in your squad] you can use the training sessions on the physical aspect. It's normal."
Conte pointedly declined to provide an update on the physical readiness of his players ahead of the Watford match.
"Honestly, at the moment, I can tell you nothing about the starting XI for tomorrow," he insisted. "Nothing. I have many [injury] doubts. I hope in the next 24 hours to try and recover some players."
Asked if Cesc Fabregas might be his only fit senior central midfielder, Conte replied: "That could be [the case]. For sure, tomorrow the game will be very tough because Watford are a good team, in a good position in the table. They have enthusiasm. But we play at home after two defeats in the league, and we want to come back to win."
There was, however, also some good news on the injury front for Conte, who revealed that a second scan on Kante's injured hamstring this week was "better than before" and the France international could return to action ahead of schedule, having initially been expected to miss the remainder of October.
"I hope to have him back very soon, before the [November] international break," the Chelsea head coach said. "He's progressing well. N'Golo has started to work, not with the group but to find a good fitness."
Deadline-day signing Danny Drinkwater was pictured in training at Cobham this week as he steps up his recovery from a lingering calf injury, but Conte clarified that the England international remains some way short of being in contention to make his Chelsea debut.
"Danny is progressing well," he said. "Now he has started to work, not with us but he has started to work in a part of the [training] session with us. Now it's very important for him to progress well and improve his physical condition.
"I think it's very important to recover him very well. If I try to put him on the pitch I will risk a player without good fitness, and then risk another injury.
"Maybe after 35 or 40 days, we must still have patience. Then wait for the right moment for him. The player is frustrated with this situation because he wants to play, but we must have patience and wait for the moment."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.