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 By Mark Worrall

Antonio Conte and Chelsea starting to suffer from demanding schedule

Chelsea's frenetic fixture list continues on Saturday with a home Premier League game against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge. Contesting silverware on four fronts, the Blues have been playing at least two matches per week in all competitions since mid-November, an agenda which will continue through to the end of January.

On the plus side, the London club sit a comfortable third in the table, have progressed to the knockout stages of the Champions League, the semifinals of the Carabao Cup and are still in the FA Cup.

On the negative side, while Antonio Conte's squad have remained relatively unscathed by injury there is a creeping sense of unease among Chelsea supporters that the lack of respite is starting to affect the Blues boss and his players.

Conte, renowned for wearing his heart on his sleeve and not suffering fools gladly, has allowed himself to be drawn into an increasingly bitter war of words with Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, and with neither man prepared to back down, from a football perspective, questions are being asked if the stress of the spat, coupled with the rigorous demands of managing Chelsea through a hectic period of the season, is starting to affect Conte's judgment.

He will never admit that Mourinho has got under his skin, but the Blues' recent games have been frustrating to watch for their fans with team selection, tactics and individual player performances all drawing a fair amount of criticism.

Having thrashed Stoke City 5-0 in the final game of 2017 without the services of rested talisman Eden Hazard, the portents looked good for the New Year. Admittedly Stoke were shocking, but both Pedro and Willian in particular demonstrated their goal-scoring capabilities and appetite for attacking play as the Potters were put to the sword.

But irrespective of whether Conte has gone with 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 of late, striker Alvaro Morata has struggled. Chelsea's record signing certainly got his Stamford Bridge career off to a good start with six top-flight goals in his first six games, but since then it's increasingly become a case of hit and miss for Morata.

The 25-year-old has squandered a series of glorious chances to find the net, not only against Stoke but also in the two games against Arsenal that followed: the league match which ended in a 2-2 draw and the recent 0-0 first leg Carabao Cup semifinal tie.

Wedged in between the games with the Gunners was an FA Cup tie away to Championship strugglers Norwich City, which culminated in an unexpected scoreless draw. Morata came on as a substitute for the final 20 minutes, but the out-of-form forward failed to make an impression.

A match against Leicester presents Antonio Conte and Chelsea with an ideal opportunity to get back to winning ways.

Fatigue has been cited as a problem for the Spain international, who also had hamstring trouble to contend with earlier in the campaign. With Conte evidently lacking faith in the ability of backup striker Michy Batshuayi, which has probably knocked the 24-year-old's confidence and limited his effectiveness when he has been deployed, as Morata's toils up front have continued so have Chelsea's.

The visit of mid-table Leicester presents Conte with an ideal opportunity to get back to winning ways and also for Morata to rediscover his scoring touch. There is no question that the Chelsea fans will be fully behind both men, but they will be hoping the Blues boss decides on an attack-minded strategy from the get-go and that, should the Foxes defence prove resilient or Morata wasteful, Conte will make good use of the talent on the bench available in good time for them to be effective.

A comfortable victory against Leicester with Morata among the goals would get Chelsea nicely back on track ahead of the midweek FA Cup replay with Norwich and trips to Brighton in the league, then Arsenal for the decisive second leg of that Carabao Cup semifinal.

Equally important, winning in fine style would also help re-balance Conte's state of mind and perhaps help him realise that settling his feud with Mourinho can be done on the pitch by his team playing a better brand of football and winning more trophies.

Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco


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