Antonio Conte’s first campaign may end with the league and cup double, but the Chelsea manager says the best is yet to come from a team in “transition”.
The former Juventus and Italy coach took over a side which had endured a miserable season, surrendering their title so meekly that boss Jose Mourinho left the club midway through the campaign amid talk of player unrest.
Chelsea finished that season in 10th, and have kicked on markedly under the new man at the helm.
Conte’s side are four points clear at the top of the Premier League with just six matches remaining and will face Arsenal in next month’s FA Cup final after overcoming title rivals Tottenham with a thrilling 4-2 semi-final win.
Chelsea last did the league and FA Cup double in 2010 as Carlo Ancelotti enjoyed a similarly impressive first season in the hot seat, although Conte highlighted the different circumstances his compatriot faced.
“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition,” the Chelsea head coach said.
“In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.
“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot.
“Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.
“I think that in the period with Carlo – and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him – he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad.
“Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.
“It’s not easy when you lose these type of players, but we need to show patience to build the foundations and then improve every season.
“I repeat, if you ask me last season, after our 10th place, and this season you stay on top of the table and you reach the FA Cup final, but you didn’t change a lot, I think it’s great. But we must continue to work and improve.”
Improvements are certainly clear in Chelsea’s results after Conte took over “underdogs”, just as he did when taking the reins at Juventus before leading them to Serie A glory.
Victories are key, but owner Roman Abramovich’s reported preference for free-flowing football brings its own pressure.
“For me, it is very important to develop our football,” Conte said.
“If you compare our team with Tottenham’s, (Spurs boss Mauricio) Pochettino has worked for three years. I started to work only seven or eight months ago.
“If we are able to take the right player to improve this squad and to continue to work with these players, we can improve for sure.”