Chelsea are committed - Conte fires back at Keane jibe
Antonio Conte believes he retains the total commitment of his Chelsea squad after their performances were criticised by ex-Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane.
Chelsea returned to winning ways with a 3-0 Premier League win over West Brom after shock defeats to Bournemouth and Watford led to renewed speculation over Conte's future.
The Premier League champions lie fourth, 19 points behind Manchester City with 11 games of the season remaining and Keane appeared to liken Chelsea's efforts this time around to their feeble title defence in 2015-16, where a dramatic slump in form saw Jose Mourinho sacked before Christmas.
"These Chelsea lads are so unprofessional," Keane told ITV Sport. "When they go and win the league in the last few years, they've [subsequently] downed tools under different managers. It's shocking behaviour."
But Conte, who agreed to a request from club captain Gary Cahill to give his players three days off to rest and recuperate ahead of the West Brom game, insists there are no problems at Stamford Bridge when it comes to work rate and application.
"In every moment I have underlined the commitment of the players," he told a news conference ahead of Friday's FA Cup fifth-round tie against Championship strugglers Hull City.
"I think that, in this 18 months, we built a great mentality. In every training session I see great commitment and great behaviours. Under this aspect, I'm very happy."
On Ryan Mason's retirement, Conte says: 'We are very sad for this bad news. He showed great strength to try to play again. It's a pity to finish your career at a young age. It's bad news, we are sad and we wish him and his family the very best.' #CHEHUL— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) February 15, 2018
Two men who can ill-afford to slack off in the manner Keane suggested are record signing Alvaro Morata and new recruit Olivier Giroud.
Giroud turned in an all-action display for the first hour against West Brom before being replaced at centre-forward by Morata, who made an unexpected return to action from a back injury.
Conte believes the competition to earn a starting berth at number nine, something the Blues have previously lacked during his tenure, can only be a positive.
"At this moment, in every moment, it's very important to have your players, all your players available," said the former Juventus boss, who bizarrely had his news briefing interrupted when Italian prankster Stefano Conti presented him with a Manchester United shirt signed by Jose Mourinho and with "Antonio Conte 1" on the back.
"In this case, to have two number nines in Morata and Giroud... to have two options is very important for us. For a lot of time [this season], we tried to play with [Eden] Hazard as a number nine."
Asked whether Morata and Giroud could be fielded in tandem, Conte added: "I think that, in the future, yes, it could happen. If we decide to play with the three midfielders.
"During the game it can happen. But now, I think it's very soon to answer this question. Don't forget that we are playing with a system [3-4-2-1] from last season. In this case, in this system, it would mean Hazard, Pedro and Willian are out."
Ross Barkley (hamstring) will miss Hull's visit to west London, while David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko have been unable to overcome knocks in time to feature.