Chelsea Are Struggling For Top Four But That's Not My Fault, Says Antonio Conte

Antonio Conte insists he is wringing every drop possible out of his Chelsea squad this season and is overachieving, but warns that expectations must be tempered.

Conte watched his side, the Premier League champions, lose 3-0 at home to Bournemouth on Wednesday night (January 31), a reverse that saw them slip down to fourth in the table.

It was another surprise defeat for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, having lost the opening game of the season at home to Burnley, when they were 3-0 down at half-time.

"After the first game this season you tried to put pressure on my job, but I'm trying to do my best," Conte said, as quoted by The Times. "We are doing 120 percent. I'm exploiting this squad at the maximum level. But if someone doesn't agree about this, I'm here. I have to accept every situation. I know that I'm doing a great job, me, the staff and the players."

The passionate Italian inherited a squad that had finished the 2015-16 season at 10th in the table, behind Southampton, West Ham and Stoke City, and he turned them into immediate champions.

This year, he says, expectations must be lowered. The goalposts must be shifted, and he believes that success come May will be finishing in the top four and qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Antonio Conte
Antonio Conte at Stamford Bridge, London, January 31. Conte says qualifying for the Champions League will be a success for Chelsea this season. BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty

"If we understand football we know very well this season will be very difficult for us," he said. "If we want only to dream and not see the reality—in this case I can tell you now we can fight to win the title this season. It will be very important to look at the reality and to know that, if we are able to reach a place in the Champions League, it will be a great success for us."

Conte is believed to have been at odds with the Chelsea board for much of the season, clashing over the recruitment strategy. In January, the club made three signings, bringing in Ross Barkley, Emerson Palmieri and Olivier Giroud.

Unlike during Jose Mourinho's reign at Stamford Bridge, Conte has refused to criticize his players and, on Wednesday, praised their efforts once again despite the defeat.

"I think the players, until now, are great," he added. "They are very, very top for their commitment. If they hadn't done that, our place in the table would be worse."

Chelsea travel to Vicarage Road on Monday to face Javi Gracia's Watford, while third-place Liverpool host Tottenham at Anfield and Manchester United take on Huddersfield.