Football

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte says title defence is over

Chelsea boss says his inconsistent team were never in this season's title race

Antonio Conte said Chelsea's Premier League title defence is effectively over following his team's 1-0 defeat by West Ham on Saturday.

The loss at the London Stadium was the champions' fourth in their first 16 league games.

The gap between Conte's side and leaders Manchester City stood at 11 points after this match, but could widen following this morning's Manchester Derby.

"To talk about the title race after a defeat is a bit strange," said Conte. "Especially if this is the fourth defeat in 16 games. When you have this start, it is impossible to think you are in the title race.

"If you want to stay in the title race, you can lose once or twice in this period. After 16 games, if you lose four games, it means we never started this race.

"Manchester City are having a fantastic season and if you want to stay in the title race, you must give consistency and this is not the case with us."

Conte made it clear he believes one of the reasons for his side's stuttering progress this season - unlike last year, they have also had to contend with the demands of European football - is the lack of options in his squad.

The ex-Italy coach was frustrated at the club's failure to bring in more players during the last transfer window.

"A lot of players were tired," said the 48-year-old Italian, who has been complaining of a congested fixture list.

"We started the pre-season with the same players, the same players are playing almost always and for sure you have to pay.

"If you remember, I said it would be very, very tough, it would be very difficult."

Marko Arnautovic struck in the sixth minute to secure West Ham's win with his first goal since joining the Hammers in July in a club record £24 million (S$43.4m) deal from Stoke City.

The Blues had plenty of ball possession after that, but simply couldn't breach a rapidly improving West Ham defence under new manager David Moyes.

Football pundit and former England defender Phil Neville didn't mince his words on BBC's Match of the Day programme, and feels Conte's pessimism is affecting the squad.

Slamming Conte for using fatigue as an excuse, he said: "In terms of fixtures, they had it easier last year with no Champions League.

"But he's talking too much about tiredness and the fixture list. He's moaning about having matches after the Champions League... If your manager is talking about tiredness, then it does affect your team."

A candid Chelsea skipper Gary Cahill, however, blamed the loss on the players, saying that the team were "never at the races".

"We were miles off it from the start of the game," he said.

"We allowed them to get the early goal, which was a poor one on our behalf, especially as we have been tight of late.

"We had plenty of time to get back in the game, but that laboured start carried on throughout. We just didn't play our stuff.

"They got the goal, sat behind the ball and tried to hit us on the break. They wasted a bit of time but that's clever play from them. Our passing was off, and we didn't create as much as we have been.

"We were not at the races today for whatever reason. It's very disappointing to come off and feel like that.

"I'm not one to make excuses. If we had played to our levels, we would have got something out of the game." - WIRE SERVICES

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