LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea’s squad is being stretched thin and the strain is beginning to show on manager Antonio Conte ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League home clash against Roma.
The Italian will be without several key players for the Group C match at Stamford Bridge which follows hot on the heels of Chelsea’s shock 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
That loss was Chelsea’s third in eight matches in the Premier League this season - only two less than the whole of the last campaign when Conte took them to the title in his first year in west London.
Striker Alvaro Morata missed the Palace defeat but is expected to face Roma, although N’Golo Kante and Victor Moses are both out with hamstring injuries that could sideline them for several weeks at a crucial stage of the season.
Midfielder Danny Drinkwater is also still missing.
Conte, who appeared underwhelmed by Chelsea’s summer squad-strenghtening with a return to Europe looming after last season’s absence, said he was left with few options.
“When there are injuries of this type, it’s very difficult for us. This is the situation and we must overcome it and try to do our best,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.
“The problem is that the same players are always playing. In our team we have players not used to playing three games in a row. For Kante it’s the first time, for Moses it’s the same.
“For Morata it’s the first time he will play with this team. When you have a lot of games you need to protect players. If this isn’t possible I have to take a risk.”
Chelsea missed out to Tottenham Hotspur for the signing of the experienced Fernando Llorente during the transfer window while Michy Batshuayi is yet to impress Conte despite his last-minute winner at Atletico Madrid that left Chelsea on top of Group C with two wins from two games.
Conte said his lack of striking depth left him with a dilemma over Morata.
“I could have taken a risk to play Morata on Saturday against Palace but I am not stupid because the situation is difficult,” he said.
“We have to play every three days and we’re very thin on the ground (with players) at the moment. Honestly there’s a risk of having other injuries. I hope not but I think the best way is to take it one game at a time and decide in every game which is the best formation and sometimes whether to take a risk or not.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond