Belfast Telegraph

Antonio Conte blames fatigue after Chelsea are held to third straight stalemate

Antonio Conte attributed Chelsea's lacklustre performance in Saturday's goalless draw against 10-man Leicester to fatigue.

The Foxes were excellent, with Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to the fore, at Stamford Bridge and might have emerged with all three points had Ben Chilwell's second-half sending off not changed the complexion of the game.

Chilwell's 68th-minute dismissal for two yellow cards allowed Chelsea to push forwards and Kasper Schmeichel saved Marcos Alonso's stoppage-time free-kick.

It was Chelsea's third successive goalless draw in all competition - for the first time in their history - following stalemates with Norwich and Arsenal.

"We played with tiredness today," Conte said.

"We suffered a lot first half, at the start of the second half.

"When I decided to put fresh energy (substitutes Willian and Pedro), the game changed. We created chances to score.

"We didn't suffer defensively. Then we tried to win the game. At the end the result was fair."

Conte had always planned to rotate his options at Norwich, who visit in a third round replay on Wednesday, and field the same side against Arsenal in last Wednesday's Carabao Cup semi-final first leg and against Leicester. It did not pay off.

The Italian insisted Chelsea's goalscoring issues are not the responsibility of one man, after striker Alvaro Morata's scoreless run extended to five games.

Conte added: "The problem is for the team, not only for Morata.

"Compared to last season we are conceding less, we are showing great solidity defensively. At the same time we're showing not great quality in our finishing.

"We have to improve if we want to score and we want to win. If you don't score, you're lucky the game finishes 0-0."

Conte is optimistic the hamstring injury suffered by Gary Cahill is not severe, although the length of absence the captain faces is uncertain.

"Cahill was a muscular problem, but not a serious problem," Conte added.

"It's good news. Now I don't know the time he needs to recover."

Conte had been wary of the Foxes and his concern proved well founded.

Leicester were relentless, playing like champions, with the intensity of their pressing forcing mistakes.

Foxes boss Claude Puel felt the dismissal of Chilwell, for tackles on Willian and Victor Moses within six second-half minutes, was "harsh".

Puel said: "At the end the feeling is mixed. A good point, against 11 at the end. A harsh sending off.

"Perhaps we deserve another result. I think we lost two points. Of course it's a little disappointment, but a good feeling to show our quality and all the chances we had this afternoon.

"The good thing is to keep this point at the end. It was the minimum.

"After the sending off it was important to defend together and get this point."

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