Conte hopes turbulence in the past
Chelsea boss says air scare will not be used as an excuse for Liverpool clash
Liverpool v Chelsea Anfield, today, 5.30pm Live on BT Sport 1 Antonio Conte and his Chelsea players may have been “scared” and “afraid” during a turbulent flight to London, but he is offering no “excuses” ahead of this weekend’s clash with Liverpool.
Chelsea’s return from their Champions League win at Qarabag was complicated as the aircraft landed at the second attempt – the first was aborted due to strong winds at Gatwick – and Conte and his players finally got to their beds at 6am.
But the Italian is refusing to allow anything to distract from the task at hand this weekend. “It was a problem to land. In these circumstances you feel a bit afraid, a bit scared,” he said. “To get to your house at 6am is not simple. To have only one day to prepare for a big game, especially to have only one day to rest, is not right. “But at the same time we must be focused on the game, a big game against Liverpool. Don’t find excuses.”
Chelsea head into the game for a reunion with a “very dangerous” Mohamed Salah, who joined the London club in January 2014, having impressed playing against them for Swiss side Basel. But the Egypt forward was soon loaned out to Fiorentina and then Roma, making the latter move permanent in 2016 before joining Liverpool last summer.
Conte declined to discuss the reasons for Salah’s unsuccessful Chelsea spell, because it was before his time at the club. But the Italian did praise the Premier League’s top scorer.
“He was very young and I think now he has developed a lot,” Conte said. “Salah is a good player and is very dangerous. He’s a technical player, but at the same time is very fast, very strong, very good in a one-on-one.
“Also he’s very good at finishing. We must pay great attention, but not only to Salah, also to [Sadio] Mane, [Roberto] Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and [Daniel] Sturridge. “They have a good coach [Jürgen Klopp], they have a good identity. Great organisation, especially offensively. They are very dangerous.”
‘My daughter killed me’
The Blues won 4-0 against Qarabag to qualify from Champions League Group C on Wednesday night, returning to London following the 2,500-mile flight from Baku, Azerbaijan and those complications.
Conte has continually bemoaned the fixture scheduling, which sees his side go to Anfield following limited recovery and one day’s preparation, 24 hours less than that afforded to Liverpool, who drew at Sevilla on Tuesday.
Despite the tiredness, Conte appeared fresh-faced after shaving off the beard he grew during the international break, having valued the opinions of his daughter Vittoria over those of his wife Elisabetta, who had encouraged him to grow it. “I wanted to try a new look, but yesterday my daughter killed me. She said to me, ‘Daddy, your look is older with the beard’. My daughter is more important than my wife.”
His side go in search of a fifth straight league win, but trail leaders Manchester City by nine points entering this weekend’s fixtures. Victor Moses, a key component of Chelsea’s title win last season, is available after a six-week absence with a hamstring injury. Moses, who spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Liverpool, is expected to be among the substitutes alongside David Luiz and Willian. Andreas Christensen and Alvaro Morata are likely to start.
Conte has adjusted his favoured 3-4-3 formation following some inconsistent displays, fielding an additional midfielder. He said: “We are trying to find different solutions compared to last season.”
Jürgen Klopp is well-accustomed to the fluctuating emotions around Liverpool and knew what was coming the moment Guido Pizarro equalised in the 93rd minute of their Champions League mayhem on Tuesday. Calling for perspective once again. Liverpool remain top of their Champions League group and can draw level on points with the champions, Chelsea, in the Premier League today with a fourth successive home win.
Klopp insists he trusts this Liverpool team implicitly. He senses that belief is not universal.
Liverpool’s setbacks have been rare this season yet their dramatic nature has strengthened the image of a reckless team. A 5-0 defeat at Manchester City, after Sadio Mané was sent off at 1-0; a Carabao Cup loss at Leicester City having squandered a procession of chances; a calamitous 4-1 reverse at Tottenham Hotspur; and now the second-half collapse in Andalusia.
Klopp maintains that only the performance at Wembley and when Liverpool “stopped playing” at Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán were genuine causes for concern. Two performances out of 20, in other words.
And yet the manager of a team that have conceded once at home in the Premier League this season – the lowest in the division along with Manchester United – admits consistency remains “a job” and “a challenge” for Liverpool. Klopp’s team have exhilarated more often than floundered this season. The issue of trust, he argues, lies with those who expect perfection. Liverpool’s manager is not one of them.
“Yes, of course I trust this team,” he said before Chelsea’s visit. “It depends on what you expect. Do I expect perfection and then I can trust? No. Then I could not trust, that would be true. Against Sevilla if we win 3-2 or 4-2, which was possible easily, it is exactly the same story. I cannot ignore it.
“The moment we conceded the third goal then everything changed for everybody, but not for me. If you don’t close the game these things can happen.
“We made mistakes but they made mistakes. They made a lot of unbelievable mistakes, by the way. I can trust this team.
“We could have done better in a lot of games but that doesn’t minimise my trust, that’s the thing you have to accept. We try and try and try. In this moment we can’t change anything.
“I think it was the best line-up we could have chosen, somebody maybe thought we could have played Emre [Can] from the beginning, but there was not a lot of things with the line we should have changed. We were 3-0 up, we scored two goals from set-pieces, fantastic, exactly the same, scored the third, played a fantastic pass for the fourth – that’s a really good performance. But then you don’t close the game and in an atmosphere like this then things like this can be possible.”
Klopp’s trust extended to Alberto Moreno following another costly display by the left-back against his former club. The Liverpool manager claims he was “100% responsible” for Moreno’s mistakes having started the defender who was treated “like a family member in Sevilla” and lost “1, 2, 3 per cent concentration” as a consequence.
“I told him I still trust him 100%,” added Klopp. “The thing I try to really teach the players is that the only thing that is important is what I think for their future.
“We have to carry on. The problem is the whole world watches our mistakes.
“A lot of people say things about it, a lot of former players are saying things about it. That’s our life, it will never change. We don’t have to think about it.”
Jordan Henderson also came in for scrutiny in Seville. Klopp delivered a fierce defence of the Liverpool midfielder. “If you always big up what people are saying on social media, then we talk about it as if it is the truth. Even if they are pundits it doesn’t mean it makes sense,” said Klopp.
“In this game, I would love to see one of the big pundits on the pitch and being the person who changed the whole game. That really is f***ing legend. It never happens.
“If we score the fourth goal then everything is fine and Jordan is fine. Could he change the game on the pitch? No. Was he too deep in a few positions? Yes. Does that make me think he cannot play the No6 [role]? No, of course not. Can he improve? Yes. But did he improve already a lot? Wow, 100%. He is a proper captain now. “He wasn’t when I first came in but only because he didn’t know how to do it because nobody had to think about how to be captain at Liverpool because they had one for 20 years [in Steven Gerrard],” Klopp continued.
“He was not better than the others [against Sevilla], unfortunately, but he was not worse. How you can say he needs to be better because he has the captaincy? I will never get this kind of talk.”
Jürgen Klopp: “The problem is the whole world watches our mistakes”