Chelsea can't match last season's '130 percent' performance - Antonio Conte
LONDON -- Antonio Conte has insisted that Chelsea should not be judged on whether or not they win a trophy this season as they prepare to take on Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinals.
Wednesday's elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona means the FA Cup represents Chelsea's only remaining hope of ending a disappointing season with silverware, while they are also chasing Tottenham and Liverpool in an attempt to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League.
But speaking in a news conference on Friday, Conte claimed that expectations of the current Chelsea squad must be tempered in light of last summer's troubled transfer window and the departure of several experienced players.
"For sure, we have to try to win this competition," he said. "But it's not important [in judging the season].
"A lot of times we compare good season, bad season, if you win something. You have to know which is our level now, to understand we are working very hard, like last season.
"Last season we did a fantastic job. Also in this season we are doing a fantastic job, a great job. This must be important. Then if you are able to win something, it's good. But you have to understand which is your moment, which is your position in this moment, which is your level in this moment.
"Every player performed 120 percent, maybe 130 percent [last season]. It's not simple. Also because if you remember we lost a lot of players, old players, that created a basis for Chelsea for a long time.
"Now we are trying to build a basis for this club. For this reason we have a lot of young players, a lack of experience when you play against teams like Barcelona. Many players are playing for the first time in this competition and they need more time to have experience playing at this level."
Chelsea have failed to get close to Manchester City's historic pace in the Premier League this season and now face a fight just to finish in the top four, trailing Tottenham by five points with only eight matches of the season remaining.
Asked if his team is underachieving, Conte replied: "This season has confirmed one thing: that last season we did an incredible achievement. This season is confirming this.
"We have to work, we have to try to improve. We have to understand the way to improve eventually for the next season, to be stronger, then to continue to work."
Conte believes there is only one way for Chelsea to once again be the dominant force in English football.
"For sure now we are creating a fundamental basis," he continued. "Then if you want to improve, to become strong, to accelerate this progress, you have to buy great players.
"I can give my opinion to the club, then the club has to decide how much money to invest, the best way to improve the team, the club. I can give my opinion, but I have to stay in my place."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.