The Chelsea head coach faced the media this afternoon at Cobham ahead of the Premier League clash against Tottenham Hotspur
Can we start with the latest on Cesar Azpilicueta?
“He’s as ok as you can be when you’ve had that type of concussion. He’s around the place, around the boys, great to see him. Obviously, he won’t be available for the weekend and we have to go through the right protocols. The good news is that he’s doing well.”
What’s the other team news ahead of Tottenham?
“We’ve had a good week’s training, everyone is available pretty much apart from N’Golo [Kante] and Christian Pulsiic. They are making progress, joining the warm-ups, and they will be more integrated next week. So that is good.”
How tough has this week been for you and have their been home truths spoken?
“It’s always tough when you lose, and certainly when you lose at home. It’s very tough, that’s normal. The response from the players has been really good. We’ve had conversations and one-to-ones, we’ve talked and tried to put things into perspective as well because that is also important. At the same time, it’s been a tough week.”
What perspective is that?
“You have to take two positions. It’s not good to lose at home and the results haven’t been good enough for us. It’s important to acknowledge that. At the same time, you’ve got to look at it as the third game in a week, where we’re at as a squad, what we’ve had to endure this season, why we are where we are, there are lots of factors. At the same time, we have to analyse the situation correctly and properly and demand more and make things better. That is what we want.”
There have been reports you had a message of support from the board, have you spoken to them this week and put their support behind you?
“Yes, I’ve spoken to them and it’s the same as it’s always been. There has always been support. I’ve been under pressure here for four months from you guys. Have you spoken to the owners? Do you have their support? That continues and they’ve been great, brilliant. They also see where we’re at but at the same time are frustrated because the results are what they are and we have to do better.”
How do you win over the supporters who aren’t on your side?
“Supporters, rightly so, are upset because we lost at home to Southampton. Supporters care and when they are upset, they let their feelings be known and we expect that. It would be naive to not think that is a fair response.
“I’ve had a lot of support from the supporters as well and while everyone would agree we’re not happy with the current situation and position, there are a lot of people who recognise where we’re at, what’s happened, and what the challenges have been for us. In the meantime, I know there isn’t anything I can say – if they are against us, – with us. The solution is that we have to win matches.”
How big of an issue could the feeling of the supporters become, because they want wins straight away?
“Some do but I think some are fair and understand the position. If you are Chelsea and lose 1-0 at home to Southampton, who are bottom of the league, then you expect fans to be critical and voice their criticism. That’s fair, there is no point in me saying that isn’t right. That is completely ok.
“Then it’s about how we analyse the situation we’re in now, how we analyse this season, are their factors that bring us to this point, and then we have to consider those as well. As I said, you’ve got to hold both positions. Results haven’t been good enough, defeat at home to Southampton isn’t good enough, and you’re entitled to be angry. My response is there are contributing factors to that result as well.”
What would you say to supporters now? Perhaps just be patient…
“I wouldn’t say anything. I’m not here to convince them, my actions have to convince them, the team has to convince them, we’ve got to win matches. There is nothing I can say.”
How difficult is it to blend together a side and win matches?
“It’s really tough. My quote a few weeks ago was that this is probably the toughest job in football, and there are a lot of factors for that. There was a sub-optimal pre-season – and speaking to a few of the experienced guys, they thought it was the worst pre-season they’ve had for different reasons. That isn’t to blame anybody for the reasons. It’s just that it happened.”
What were the reasons?
“We have the most unprecedented injury situation in that period in the Premier League. We played Newcastle before the break and we had no Kepa, no Reece James, no Ben Chilwell, no Marc Cucurella, no Wesley Fofana, no N’Golo Kante, no Raheem Sterling, no Ruben Loftus-Cheek after two minutes, and no Cesar Azpilicueta. We lost 1-0 and that is where we were at.
“We then had the World Cup, then the club invest a lot of money in the squad and the pressure, expectation, and noise goes up. But the players we got, they’re not 28-year-old, 400-game Premier League players. They are young players that take time to adapt to, and at the same time we’ve got the injured players who have to get up to speed to play in the Premier League.
“That is the position we were in. We thought we were making progress but then we had the first half against Southampton – the third game in a week after a Champions League game –that was below par. Then the sky can fall in. That’s essentially how I can say that are some of the inconvenient facts if you say I’m not use. But that is the situation.”
What does the future look like for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the club? Does he have a future?
“Yes, he does. He’s competing for a place in the squad, has had a really good training week to the situation we’ve been in. He’s available for selection.”
What do you want to see on Sunday against Tottenham, what kind of reaction?
“A positive one. We need a strong performance and we need three points. It’s a fantastic game. I’ll be missing Antonio [Conte] and I wish him a speedy recovery. It’s a game we’re really looking forward to, training has been really good, the response from the players has been really good. So we’re looking forward to the game.”
Is it true you gave your players a couple of extra days off this week?
“They were scheduled and after the week we had with the Champions League, it just fitted that they were there. Sometimes you need a couple of days to clear your head and make sure the feedback and planning are correct. They were already scheduled.”
How do you cope with the pressure and can you block out the noise?
“You’re asking me the question but I don’t think anyone is really bothered is the truth. I’m the manager of Chelsea and I’ve been asked for four months about the pressure, which is a two-way thing. Four months ago, was I under pressure? I don’t know. But now when the results are what they are, you accept it. It’s fascinating to see the process play out – and I’ve sat here for four months about pressure, time, speaking to the owners – that is part of life at Chelsea.
“You have to accept the fact that when the results are what they are, you accept criticism and it should come. That is fair. The mood in here as been relatively positive and respectful, but that isn’t to say it’s easy at all. Your family life suffers, your mental heath suffers, and your personality suffers. It’s hard. But you’re not really bothered. It’s how it is.”
What have you been able to do in training this week, includes changing things to improve the goal-scoring?
“We have looked at a few things but I don’t want to articulate it too much because it will give our opponents something to think about. Before the Southampton game I thought we’d made some progress in terms of how we are playing. In the second half against Dortmund in particular that was probably as well as we have played. But the first half against Southampton was not good. We made six changes to the team and that can change the fluidity and cohesion of the team.
“It makes it not so easy for the players and obviously I take full responsibility for that. In the second half we should have scored and we needed a bit of luck. But from a training perspective, we have tried to work on being positive, acting well, behaving as a team that understands the responsibility and position we are in and acts in a way we should.”
Too many players are afraid to miss and is that pressure of being at Chelsea?
“It doesn’t matter who scores, the more goalscorers you have in the team the better it is. My job, and we haven’t done as well as we would have liked, is to get the team to attack well, that chances are created from all over the pitch and then you can score goals. As it is we’ve made steps into how we play, it’s still not perfect by any stretch. But while you don’t score, and the xG is this and the reality is this, there is always a debate to be had. My focus is on how does the team perform better, how does the team attack better and then with the quality of players we have we will score.”
Talked to the players about it this week? More frustrated because defensive record is only below Newcastle’s in the PL? Get goalscoring right and it will look better for you?
“Yes. Again if you watch the Dortmund game if you play it 10 times, you will score seven or eight or nine out 10. We didn’t. Joao Felix hit the bar and had a good chance in the first half as well. So that’s positive. Sometimes you go through periods where things just go against you and you think ‘what’s going on here?’ It seems to have been that way a little bit. But if we perform to the level we did against Dortmund and at the start of the West Ham game, we will score goals because we have the players who can do it. The quality is there.
“Again when you integrate new players and young players into the team, it’s not so easy for everything to click. The most difficult part of the game is the attacking part of the game. So it’s no surprise that you have to work a bit for that. Again with the situation we’ve been in, players coming back from injury, to get that fluidity and certainty in your attacking play, it’s a process.”
Had talks though as a group this week?
“Yes. I have spoken about it with individuals and as a group in terms of how to attack against Tottenham. The past is the past. Ok we need to focus on the next game which is against Tottenham. How can we attack well there against a team that doesn’t give very much away. They defend with a back five, defend strong and deep, press high when they can. We tried to think about that.
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