Forward thinking gives Conte a headache

Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte applauds after winning the English Premier League football match between Huddersfield Town and Chelsea at the John Smith’s stadium in Huddersfield, northern England on December 12, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF

Antonio Conte will attempt to find a solution to Chelsea’s problems in front of goal without the services of suspended pair Alvaro Morata and Pedro when they face Brighton on Saturday.

Michy Batshuayi’s strike in the midweek FA Cup third-round replay win against Norwich City, a success achieved on penalties after a 1-1 draw, was the Blues’ first goal after three successive scoreless draws.

Chelsea manager Conte insisted there were positives to take from the performance ahead of his side’s return to the battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish in the Premier League.

The champions dropped to fourth place after last weekend’s round of fixtures and could slip to fifth if they lose at Brighton and Tottenham Hotspur beat Southampton the following day.

However, the loss of Morata and Pedro, both of whom were booked for diving against Norwich and then dismissed after collecting second yellow cards, does nothing to help Conte revive his side’s goal threat.

Spain striker Morata has struggled since his impressive start to life at Stamford Bridge and is without a goal in six games, while winger Pedro has scored four times in the league.

“Our performance was positive against Norwich. Despite making many changes, we scored one goal and we created many chances to score the second goal. Instead we conceded with 10 seconds to go,” he said.

“Now we have to play in two days against Brighton at 12.30. We have to try to recover very well.

“I hope we don’t pay, also because my decision was clear: to try to go to the next round tonight and give a bit of rest to the other players.

“For sure we have to face many problems, and also because Pedro and Morata are not able to play, but we want to try to get three points.”

Not easy
Responsibility for leading the attack at Brighton is likely to fall on Eden Hazard, with Batshuayi providing a central striking option from the bench.

Belgium playmaker Hazard admitted Chelsea were below their best in beating Norwich and he fears the combined impact of extra time and the two late red cards could take a toll.

“With extra time and penalties it’s not easy, we got two red cards which is the bad thing, but at least we go through and we are ready for Brighton at the weekend,” he said.

Brighton are in desperate need of a win after dropping to within two places and three points of the bottom three.

Chris Hughton’s men have been guilty of failing to convert too many draws into wins at home and another slip could further undermine the progress they made in establishing themselves close to mid-table earlier in the season.

After just one win in 12 league games, the manager admits the onus is on his side to improve their form at home.

“I expect a very difficult game, I don’t think anybody would say any different. Irrespective of their situation at the moment it won’t be anything other than a difficult game,” Hughton said.

“But these are the challenges you look forward to. We know we are more likely to get points at home than away, we have had some difficulties away from home, this is the next opportunity we have.

“There is no-one in the changing room who wouldn’t want to play, it’s our next opportunity to pick up points.”



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