LONDON — Antonio Conte claimed that Chelsea are finding it harder to rediscover their best form because people are exaggerating the extent of their struggles this season.
Damaging back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have left Chelsea fifth in the Premier League heading into Monday’s clash with West Brom at Stamford Bridge, 22 points adrift of leaders Manchester City.
Conte’s future, the subject of speculation ever since he signed an improved rather than extended contract last summer, is also in serious doubt after a run that has seen the Blues win two of their 10 matches in all competitions in 2018, failing to score on four occasions.
But in a press conference on Friday, Conte suggested that the level of pressure being applied on Chelsea is unwarranted.
“We are talking about a team that is [fifth] in the league, that is preparing to face the game against Barcelona,” he said. “We are in the FA Cup, and we reached the semifinals in the Carabao Cup.
“I think we understand that, when you lose two games in a row, the situation is not simple. But maybe we are increasing the difficulty of this team [recovering].”
Asked what he meant, Conte replied: “Because it seems like we are fighting for the relegation zone. There are a lot of rumours and speculation, despite [the fact that] we are keeping our expectations. I don’t think that anyone trusted us to win the title this season. There were two teams fighting for the title, both from Manchester. Also last season, we started behind [them].
“For this reason, there are too many speculations around this club, around me, around this team. I think that, maybe, you have to find a bit more balance. I understand that we have to live with this pressure, and it’s OK for me. It’s OK for me and my players.”
Even if he survives Chelsea’s current slump in form, Conte is widely expected to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the season following months of tension with the club hierarchy about transfer policy.
Winning major silverware could change the equation, but Conte does not believe he should be judged on trophies.
“In my opinion, you continue to work with a manager or coach not because of what he achieves in one season, but because you trust in him,” Conte explained. “Then you build something with him.
“But it doesn’t mean you have to win something, because that’s not simple — especially in England, it’s not simple. In my vision, you can win but, at the same time, the club might not be happy to stay with you. For this reason, it’s right to send the coach away.
“At the same time, you can trust in a coach and his work and continue with him even if you don’t win, and try and build something important. There are two ways [to run a club]. There is a stupid way and an intelligent way.”
Asked which way Chelsea are pursuing, he added: “This is my opinion. At the same time, I have great respect for every opinion. If the club decides to send me away, I don’t know when, it’ll be because they’re not happy with my work.”
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.