Football

Conte rues lack of squad depth as fixtures pile up

Antonio Conte believes Chelsea's gruelling schedule and a lack of squad depth are to blame for the champions' recent struggles.

Conte's side lacked energy and drive as they were forced to settle for a dour 0-0 draw against 10-man Leicester at Stamford Bridge last Saturday.

For the first time in the club's history, Chelsea have endured three successive goalless draws after an FA Cup stalemate at Norwich and a League Cup blank against Arsenal.

Even the 68th-minute dismissal of Leicester defender Ben Chilwell for two bookings couldn't lift lethargic Chelsea, who were outplayed in the first half and couldn't make their numerical advantage count at the end of the second period.

With an eye on the FA Cup third-round replay against Norwich on Thursday morning (Singapore time), Conte is concerned by the signs of fatigue following the draining Christmas and New Year fixture pile-up.

He said: "We put in a lot of effort against Arsenal on Wednesday, then to play a really good team in good physical form like Leicester was difficult.

"We played with almost the same players as against Arsenal. I saw a lot of players very tired. I saw Eden (Hazard) was very tired, so he came off.

"When I decided to put fresh energy on with Willian and Pedro, the game changed. We created chances to score but, at the end, the result was fair."

Conte hinted Chelsea's energy levels are affecting results because he doesn't have quality in reserve.

The attention also fell on Spain striker Alvaro Morata, whose barren spell has extended to five games.

But Conte is adamant Morata isn't the only one to blame for Chelsea's profligacy.

"The problem is for the team, not only for Morata," he said. - AFP

Football