Conte ponders difficult season after Chelsea capitulation in Rome

Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois, whose second-half saves kept the score down, was also baffled by how the English Premier League champion lost its "fighting spirit" after halftime
Conte ponders difficult season after Chelsea capitulation in Rome

AS Roma's Stephan El Shaarawy celebrates scoring the second goal against Chelsea during their UEFA Champions League match at Stadio Olimpico in Rome on October 31, 2017. Roma won 3-0.

Antonio Conte's return to Italian football on Tuesday proved such a chastening experience as he watched his Chelsea side dismantled by AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League that he worries they could be set for a "very difficult" season.

A downbeat Conte said he and his players all had to take responsibility for the 0-3 capitulation in Group C, which equalled the biggest he has suffered during his Chelsea reign, and needed to rediscover their hunger for battle quickly.

Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois, whose second-half saves kept the score down, was also baffled by how the Premier League champion lost its "fighting spirit" after halftime as it became the first English side to lose in the UCL this season.

Two first-half goals from Stephan El Shaarawy seemed to break Chelsea's spirit to such an extent that after the break the players were both so disorganized at the back and careless with their distribution that they bore no resemblance to the efficient outfit which was so hard to breach last season.

After Diego Perotti made it 3-0, Conte told BT Sport: "Roma showed more will to fight and more desire to win the game. For this performance, we all have to take responsibility.

"When you concede three goals, you must be worried. It means something doesn't work."

Talking to Sky Sports, he added: "This season will be very difficult if we don't understand quickly the right way that we have to go.

"Last season we showed great hunger, great will to do something of importance. If we think that only because our name is Chelsea and the opponent has fear (of) the name Chelsea, I think this is not the right way.

"We must find the hunger that we showed in all last season and in this season sometimes. We have to try to find the strength to understand and to use this loss in the right way."

Conte has cut a restless figure all season with Chelsea's EPL title defense having been so underwhelming as it lies nine points off leader Manchester City.

Increasing media speculation about Conte being replaced at Stamford Bridge by compatriot Carlo Ancelotti also left him uncharacteristically irritable at a news conference last week.

Yet he seems even more exasperated with what he is seeing on the field, Chelsea's woeful defending at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday making him wish aloud that such a performance was for "one night only".

The evidence, though, is that a lack of confidence is infecting his previously mean rearguard, as shown in particular by the lack of communication between Antonio Rudiger and his fellow defenders which led to El Shaarawy's second goal.

"I don't know why in the second half we dropped our fighting spirit and our mentality," Courtois told BT Sport. "We have to fight back on Sunday (in the Premier League clash with Manchester United) and show the fans this was an off-day."

Conte ponders difficult season after Chelsea capitulation in Rome

Paris Saint-Germain’s Layvin Kurzawa scores the team's fourth goal against Anderlecht during their UEFA Champions League match at Parc des Princes in Paris on October 31, 2017. PSG won 5-0 to advance to the last 16.

The only good news for Chelsea was that Atletico Madrid's shock home draw against Qarabag in the other Group C fixture meant the London side only needs one win from its final two games to ensure qualification for the knockout stages.

Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich became the first teams in the UCL knockout rounds after the group rivals both won on Tuesday to advance with two games left, The Associated Press reported.

PSG routed Anderlecht 5-0 — with defender Layvin Kurzawa scoring three to outshine Neymar — and Bayern won 2-1 at Celtic.

Manchester United, like PSG, won a fourth straight game but beating Benfica 2-0 was not yet enough to ensure advancing from Group A. Basel would have joined United in the last16 by beating CSKA Moscow, instead it surprisingly lost 1-2 at home. CSKA and Basel both have six points, and United will advance by avoiding defeat in Switzerland in three weeks' time.

Barcelona and Juventus both drew away from home to maintain their steady progress in Group D.

Barcelona drew 0-0 at Olympiakos and Juventus needed a late leveler from Gonzalo Higuain to earn a 1-1 draw at Sporting Lisbon.

The two powerhouses meet in Turin in three weeks' time, when Barcelona will need only a draw to progress.

Barcelona has 10 points, three points clear of last year's runner-up Juventus, with Sporting a further three points back.

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