Expect Antonio Conte to be all fired up for crunch clash against Roy Hodgsonby Chloe Beresford / 09 March 2018, 13:45Tweet
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte can be criticised for many things. His abrasive personality have caused clashes wherever he has been as a player or a Coach, and his stubbornness over squad selection when in charge of the Italian national team caused frustration for Azzurri supporters everywhere.
One thing he cannot be accused of however, is a lack of effort or an inability to motivate his players, the Italian squeezing every last ounce of endeavor from his squad in a drill-sergeant type fashion.
Except last Saturday versus Manchester City.
A 1-0 victory for the home side at the Etihad stadium saw the Blues put in a bizarrely apathetic performance, something completely at odds with a typical Antonio Conte side. While Pep Guardiola’s men completed a staggering 902 of their 976 attempted passes, Chelsea lagged behind with just 303 from 392 attempts. They also failed to make any shots on target in the entire match, the players making just 11 tackles compared to a season average of 18.
While Gary Neville didn’t hold back in his analysis of the performance – labelling Chelsea “embarrassing” and “unacceptable” – Conte of course hit back in his own inimitable style. “The pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics,” he responded. “I think you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way.”
Of course, this didn’t wash with the Sky Sports pundit who responded, declaring “these Chelsea players took a day off. They took a rest,” before going on to call the boss out over his performances with previous sides.
“I know the Juventus team that he played in and I was England coach against his Italy team. His teams work hard, they are aggressive, they are good defensively, they tackle and they know how to play. He will have been equally disgusted.”
Neville is absolutely right here, but as some pointed out on social media there were mitigating circumstances. Conte had just learned of the sudden and tragic death of his former Italy player Davide Astori that morning, the boss making an emotional statement to the press before the City match. While all the rest of the Serie A games were called off that day, Conte and Marcos Alonso – a former team-mate of Astori at Fiorentina – had to carry on regardless.
"It's difficult for me to talk about football today"— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) March 4, 2018
Antonio Conte knew Davide Astori personally... pic.twitter.com/Ru9RPNq9VD
A deflated Conte would surely not have fired up his players in the usual way before that match, but you can rest assured that he will be ready to do so this weekend following the criticism. Chelsea will face a Crystal Palace side that couldn’t have been more motivated in their game with Manchester United last Monday night, yet squandered a 2-0 lead to eventually lose 3-2 with Nemanja Matic firing in the winner right at the death.
Unfortunately for Eagles boss Roy Hodgson, such a valiant effort ultimately ended up with a failure to win for the sixth match in a row and relegation now looms once again. A lengthy injury list won’t help him either, Wilfried Zaha, Connor Wickham, Scott Dann, Jason Puncheon, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Bakary Sako, Julian Speroni and Mamadou Sakho all having been ruled out, Yohan Cabaye and Joel Ward also listed as doubts.
The experienced man may resort to a defensive setup in order to counteract these injury woes, but it’s likely that Conte will unleash his wrath on Palace at the weekend, making this an extremely difficult contest for Hodgson.
That said, the Chelsea man has never beaten his English adversary, his record stating one loss and one draw in two matches played. The most notable of the two was a 2-1 defeat at Selhurst Park back in October just a month after Hodgson had taken over from a disastrous spell from Frank de Boer, with question marks now looming over whether Palace can indeed stay up.
Perhaps the ex- England boss is cursing his former assistant Gary Neville, as his comments will have given Antonio Conte a point to prove, the most sure-fire way to stir up the fiery Italian.