Antonio Conte: Chelsea must be at ‘120%’ to beat Barcelona

Head coach Antonio Conte insists Chelsea must be positive about the Champions League draw, which sees his side face five-times European champions Barcelona.
Antonio Conte: Chelsea must be at ‘120%’ to beat Barcelona

Having finished second in their group behind Roma, the Premier League champions were hoping for a potential last-16 tie against Besiktas, but instead came out against Lionel Messi’s band of superstars.

“Our reaction must be positive,” said Conte ahead of tonight’s Premier League clash at Huddersfield (John Smith’s Stadium, 8pm).

“When you are in this stage, you must be ready to face every team. In this case, we must be ready to face Barcelona. When you play against Barcelona, you must put 120% at home and away if you want to hope to go to the next round.”

The first leg takes place at Stamford Bridge on February 20 — it is scheduled to be followed by Premier League matches at Manchester United (February 24) and Manchester City (March 3) — with the second leg at the Nou Camp on March 14.

Italian Conte ismissed past battles with Barca, but he will hope to invoke the memory of their remarkable win over the Catalan giants in 2012, when goals from Ramires and Fernando Torres saw them reach the Champions League final on away goals, despite the earlier dismissal of John Terry.

“The past is the past. Now, it’s the present, another story. It’s totally different,” he said.

A 1-0 loss at West Ham last Saturday and City’s win in the Manchester derby on Sunday saw Chelsea slip 14 points behind Pep Guardiola’s Premier League leaders. After a fourth loss in 16 games, Conte thinks a title challenge is now all but over and he spoke of a revised target ahead of tonight’s Premier League clash at Huddersfield.

“I’m not happy, because the last game we lost against West Ham. I like to win. When we lose, I’m not happy,” said Conte.

“In 16 games, we lost four games. My experience tells [me] it’s impossible to win the title. Now, we must be focused in the league to go game by game, to do our best.

“This league is not simple. We have to fight to find a place in the Champions League, [but] we must be very realistic to understand that this league is very dangerous. We have to go game by game, play every game with 120% of our strength, otherwise we risk to have a bad surprise at the end of the season.”

Midfielder Danny Drinkwater missed the West Ham loss through illness, while defender David Luiz is being monitored over his knee injury. Conte is likely to make changes for the trip to Huddersfield. Midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko was substituted at half-time at the London Stadium and striker Alvaro Morata was replaced 10 minutes into the second half and both could be in need of a rest.

Conte, who reiterated that his Chelsea side are rebuilding after the departures of the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard in recent seasons, says it is important the summer arrivals are given time to bed in.

He added: “New players need a bit of time to adapt themselves to our idea of football, to adapt themselves in this league. This is not simple. The most important thing is to have the will to work and to try to improve every day.”

Huddersfield head coach David Wagner believes Manchester City’s superb form rather than Chelsea’s short-comings has seen Guardiola’s side emerge as runaway leaders.

“It shows the top quality Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have developed. They have won 15 games and drawn one in the Premier League. In any country in Europe, to win 15 and draw one is absolutely extraordinary.

“This is what should be focused on rather than the other teams, who are not able to follow them.”

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