Antonio Conte denied that his team sheet was intended as any kind of message to the Chelsea hierarchy after a lineup stocked with kids on the bench and a 20-year-old making his first start lost to Burnley on the opening day of their title defence.
“You don’t know me very well,” Conte said, replying to the suggestion he might have intended to highlight the club’s lukewarm summer recruitment. “You can see that in every friendly game I always played the best formation and I did the same today. My choice was to put out the best players that we have in this moment. I don’t like this type of idea, someone sending a message. I wanted to win today, not to send a message.”
However, Conte did point the finger of blame at his players, accusing his team of losing composure after the sending off of the captain, Gary Cahill, in the 13th minute
“It was a key moment because after that red card we conceded three goals, but we must pay attention because there is the whole rest of the game to do your best. Despite this we also saw the great spirit and great commitment of my players and we must be very proud of this.
“I saw two faces today: one positive in the second half, one negative in the first half.”
Asked about the referee Craig Pawson’s performance in sending off first Cahill and then Cesc Fàbregas, Conte offered a long pause before saying: “I prefer not to comment on the referee’s decisions or the performance of the referee. The coach can make mistakes the players can mistakes, the referee – yes.”
There was at least one positive aspect for Chelsea in the performance of Álvaro Morata, who scored his first club goal, although Conte also warned that his record signing still has much work to do on both his fitness and fitting into the system.
Meanwhile, Sean Dyche was generous in victory, with the Burnley manager swatting aside the suggestion his players might have sensed some vulnerability in the champions at the start of the match. “No, not at all. The sending-off made a big difference to them. I thought the referee was very good – he had a tough game to handle.
“They’re a top-class side, with some fantastic individuals, 3-0 down is not normal for them so they had to respond, which they did. It’s a big win for us, even with 10 men they’re a fine side. In fact, they opened up the pitch more with 10 on the pitch. I’m really pleased with my players.
“In the second half we were in that awkward predicament – do you attack or hold on to it? They scored two, there were a couple of maybes, we hit the post. I think by the end you’d have to say we deserved it.”
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