Chelsea are on the midst of a mid-season slump after drawing 0-0 at home against Leicester on Saturday. The result meant that the Champions are winless in their last four matches in all competitions.
The result will do little to lift the air of siege that has settled around a manager who could do no wrong in his first season in west London. But Conte has been a restless, fretful discontented presence during this campaign and has allowed himself to become thoroughly rattled by Mourinho’s expertly aimed barbs.
The build-up to this match had seen him fending off suggestions that he would leave the club at the end of the season, as well an exchange of barbs with Mourinho. The way his team played during this game suggested that all the off-the-field distractions may be taking their toll.
But Conte refused to blame the off-the-field distractions that he has orchestrated for his sides lack of form, instead claiming that his players were still feeling the effects of their exertion against Arsenal in Wednesday’s first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal.
“I think honestly, not to find excuses or alibis, today we paid a lot for the effort from Arsenal,” Conte said.
“To play Wednesday night and then today against a really good team, a team in really good physical form like Leicester, after only two and a half days [is difficult].
“We played with almost the same players as against Arsenal. My plan was to play with one team in the FA Cup, and then these two games with almost the same players. But I think, today, I saw a lot of players very tired. We suffered a lot in the first half and at the start of the second half.
“Then when I decided to put fresh energy on, the game changed. We tried to create chances, to score, and we are not suffering defensively. We tried to win the game. But at the end I think the result was fair.”
Asked if fatigue was the reason for taking off Hazard and Fabregas so early, Conte replied:
“Yes. I saw them very, very tired. It was simple.”
With no European football to distract them last season, Chelsea and Conte waltzed to the title. But the pressure of balancing the demands of the Champions League, against the demands of the league was one of the things that Conte struggled with at Juventus and it is clear that he has not learnt from his time in Italy.
There, as now, Conte’s tactical decisions are coming under focus. On Saturday, Conte took off Hazard and Fabregas with 35 minutes to go, leaving Alvaro Morata as the only other attacking player on the pitch.
It’s the sort of decision that baffled Chelsea fans and the smattering of boos at both the half-time and full-time whistles illustrate that the Italian is rapidly loosing the hearts of the Chelsea faithful.