Antonio Conte is unsure whether his Chelsea squad is stronger than the one that won the Premier League title last season but has suggested clubs will need to draw up clear strategies if they are to be successful in next summer’s truncated transfer window.
The champions endured a chaotic finale with Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta joining on deadline day while moves for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fernando Llorente and Ross Barkley fell through. Chelsea still spent more than £180m in the summer, recouping over £110m in sales, and with Diego Costa remaining awol in Brazil, as they sought to provide Conte with a squad capable of competing in the Champions League.
Antonio Rüdiger, Tiemoué Bakayoko and the record signing, Álvaro Morata, are likely to play at Leicester on Saturday. Yet, after a tense summer behind the scenes, Conte was unable to determine whether he possesses a squad with enough strength in depth to challenge on four fronts. “This question is very difficult to answer,” said the manager, whose side play seven times in three weeks this month. “I think we have to wait until the end of the season and then we’ll see. Then I can answer this question.
“The club tried to do their best in this transfer window. Sometimes you are able to buy. Sometimes you are not able to buy, for many reasons. But I think the club tried to do its best during the transfer market. Now the window is closed – that is the past for us – and it’s time for us to work with these players. I’m very happy to work with the players we have. The next few weeks will show us more.”
Next summer’s transfer window will be shortened with Premier League clubs having voted narrowly in favour of closing the market before the start of the domestic season. Chelsea were one of the 14 who voted for the change, a move with which Conte agrees, although he has stressed the necessity to be far more efficient when it comes to recruitment in a year’s time.
“If you have a correct plan, a correct programme, I don’t see a problem,” he said. “If you wait until the end of the transfer market, you could have problems. But if you have a plan and your ideas are very clear, I don’t see a problem.”
Eden Hazard, who returned after ankle surgery for Belgium’s World Cup qualifiers against Gibraltar and Greece, has travelled with Chelsea’s squad and is likely to start on the bench at the King Power Stadium. Drinkwater, who completed his £35m move to the champions on deadline day, is not expected to start against his former club.
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