(Reuters) - Chelsea deserve the season they are having and their struggles in the current campaign are down to the departure of experienced players over the past few years, manager Antonio Conte has said.
A number of players who helped the club savour domestic and European success, including defenders John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic and goalkeeper Petr Cech have moved on while midfielder Nemanja Matic was sold to Manchester United in the close season.
“We’re having the season that we are deserving,” Conte said ahead of the defending champions’ Premier League game against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
“In the last two or three years we lost important players for Chelsea. When you lose important players with experience and charisma and players used to winning, you lose a lot.
“Last season we were very good but maybe it was a fantastic season for us... in this season, we are deserving to play for this target (fourth place) but for sure everyone is trying to do our best to get the best target possible for us.”
Conte was reported by British media to have been at odds with the club over the need to strengthen the squad in the transfer window earlier in the season.
The Italian suggested that some of the players brought in still needed experience to develop a winning mentality.
“Davide Zappacosta is a clear example for this type of situation,” Conte added. “We are talking about a young player, a player who is in the first season to play Champions League and maybe international games.
“But I think in this team there are many good players. For example, Emerson Palmieri. He’s a young player with a really good prospect but he needs to improve in many aspects. Andreas Christensen is another...
“We have young players that need to make experience and to improve, not only on the pitch, but charisma and personality. You can do this only if you play important games.”
Chelsea are fifth in the league table with 56 points, five points behind Spurs as both teams bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis