Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte reacts ahead of the English Premier League football match between Sunderland and Chelsea at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland, north-east England on December 14, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF /
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is confident his squad can cope with a far busier September than last year.
The reigning Premier League champions will kick off at Leicester on Saturday in sixth place on six points, one spot below West Bromwich and one above Watford whilst Leicester are three points worse off and fifth from bottom after three games.
The Leicester clash is quickly followed by Tuesday’s Champions League group game at home to Qarabag with Chelsea needing to fulfil seven fixtures in just 21 days, an intense schedule Conte did not have to worry about last season.
But the 48-year-old Italian was confident that all the hard work he was able to put in on the training ground in his first campaign meant his ideas were now firmly embedded in his players’ minds.
“A year ago they didn’t know my idea of football, my physical work and the analysis,” he said.
“It is easier now for me and my job at this point of the season. The feeling is a lot better if you compare now to this time last season.”
The Leicester game also provides new signing Danny Drinkwater with the opportunity to make his debut against the club that sold him for £35million ($45.1 million, 37.9 million euros) on deadline day.
Indeed, the deal was concluded so late that Leicester’s attempts to bring in a replacement — Adrien Silva from Sporting Lisbon — ended in farcical failure.
FIFA refused to grant the Portugal midfielder international clearance after Leicester missed the deadline for submitting paperwork by just 14 seconds, placing the £22m move in doubt.
Silva will not face the champions as Leicester prepare an appeal against FIFA’s decision but Riyad Mahrez is available after failing to seal a deadline-day move away.
Jamie Vardy, who has started the season strongly in attack for Leicester, will play in the week he has admitted he could be tempted to leave in future to clinch more trophies having like Drinkwater won the Premier League two seasons ago with the Foxes.
He rejected a move to Arsenal in the wake of that success.
“I’m pleased with the decision I made,” said Vardy.
“Turning down Arsenal doesn’t mean I wouldn’t look at another offer.
“I want to win as much as possible, I don’t want to only have one Premier League medal in my drawer at home -— it would be an empty glass cabinet.
“I’m contracted to Leicester and we’ll see how high we can go.
“Down the road, there might be an opportunity to go to the MLS or China. It would be something I’d like to experience.
“I know it’ll involve moving the family again but it’ll give them a different experience to see different cultures.”