English Premiership

Chelsea face reality check as title hopes fade

2017-12-11 06:50
Antonio Conte (AP)

Huddersfield - Chelsea's powers of recovery will be tested as Antonio Conte's side attempt to bounce back from a painful weekend defeat when they visit Huddersfield on Tuesday.

Conte claimed Chelsea were no longer in the Premier League title race in the wake of the 1-0 defeat at struggling West Ham on Saturday. 

That was the reigning champions' fourth league defeat of the season and has, for now, retrained their focus on the fight to retain a top four position. 

The trip to Huddersfield presents an early opportunity to show they can put the West Ham loss behind them. 

But while Conte concedes his side's defeat to Manchester City was understandable, their losses to Burnley, Crystal Palace and West Ham, the latter two both in relegation danger, have given the Blues boss major cause for concern. 

The inquest following the visit to the London Stadium was clearly painful. 

"We just didn't play our stuff. It's frustrating," said Chelsea captain Gary Cahill. 

"We were just not at the races - for whatever reason that is. It's disappointing to come off and feel like that. 

"I'm not one to make excuses. We do have loads of games - but if we played to our levels today we get something out of the game. But we didn't. 

"We have been in good form of late which is why it's so disappointing to put in a performance like that. 

"We have to reflect, we have to pick ourselves up and go again. We have to try to freshen up and get the energy levels back up." 

Conte will attempt to freshen up his side and having withdrawn Tiemoue Bakayoko in favour of Pedro, is likely to reshape his midfield after a lacklustre weekend display even if the manager declared himself happy with the Frenchman's display.

"Bakayoko was playing a good game but when you find 11 players behind the ball and you are losing 1-0, it's important to change something," said Conte. 

"Pedro has different characteristics to Bakayoko, he's better one-versus-one and he has good technical qualities. Bakayoko satisfied me with his performance." 

David Luiz was the only weekend absentee and the centre-back is again expected to be missing with a knee problem. 

Huddersfield winger Tom Ince believes life will be made very uncomfortable for Chelsea when they visit the John Smith's Stadium. 

The Terriers recorded a morale-boosting 2-0 win over Brighton on Saturday and have already beaten Manchester United at home. 

Ince reckons no team will fancy facing Huddersfield on their own patch in West Yorkshire now they have regained confidence, and that includes the defending Premier League champions. 

"I don't think Chelsea or anyone does," Ince said. 

"The way we get in people's faces, we stop people playing, we win our tackles, we win our battles, we make it difficult for teams. 

"Chelsea have got talent in abundance. We know we are going to be spells in the game where we won't be on top. 

"But we feel we can cause any team problems here. We beat United here - we deserved to beat them - and we ran City close." 

Huddersfield manager David Wagner will be without on-loan midfielder Kasey Palmer, who will be ineligible to face his parent club. 

Michael Hefele is still lacking fitness following a long-term Achilles injury while fellow defender Jon Stankovic is still out with a knee ligament injury.

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Saturday, 24 February 2018
Leicester City v Stoke City, King Power Stadium 14:30
Liverpool v West Ham United, Anfield 17:00
Brighton & Hove Albion v Swansea City, The American Express Community Stadium 17:00
West Bromwich Albion v Huddersfield Town, The Hawthorns 17:00
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