Chelsea boss Antonio Conte wants to win titles, not keep players happy
LONDON -- Antonio Conte insists he doesn't care about keeping all of his Chelsea players happy because his priority is to create a winning mentality at the club.
Just 18 players have started a Premier League match for Chelsea this season, and seven men -- Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, N'Golo Kante, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa -- have started more than 30 of the Blues' 34 games in the competition.
Established regulars like Cesc Fabregas and Willian have largely been forced to accept diminished roles as impact substitutes, while opportunities have been limited for many of Chelsea's promising academy graduates, but Conte says his only priority is to pick the best team to win matches.
Asked specifically if he expects to satisfy Fabregas with only infrequent starts, Conte replied: "I'd like to underline a concept, that I mustn't keep the players happy. We must win.
"You can be happy and arrive 10th [in the league] and play every game. If you are unhappy in this season, when you are fighting for the title or to win the FA Cup, I think I don't like when I listen to these type of questions. You speak about 'happy.' I speak about 'to win' and to work very hard.
"I know that to work very hard is not simple. Players are not always happy to work very hard. But I think my target is to put in the mind of my players a winning mentality, and a winning mentality doesn't have to keep the players happy.
"It's very difficult to keep 20 players happy, above all because I don't want to. I don't want this. I want players ready to fight and to try to put themselves in the team, to try to win together. If you are happy or unhappy, I don't care. It's important to pass this concept, you understand?"
Conte may be forced to shuffle Chelsea's starting XI against Middlesbrough on Monday, however, after revealing that Luiz (groin) and Kante (thigh) are both struggling with muscular problems -- though he expects Courtois to be fit despite tweaking his injured right ankle against Everton.
"[Thibaut] trained today and also yesterday, and I don't see any problem with him," Conte said.
"In this week we are struggling with two situations about David Luiz and N'Golo. He had a little muscular problem, not a great problem. For this reason, I have to consider the right way for him.
"But I think there are three days before the Middlesbrough game, so I have the time to make the best decision about them."
Tottenham have the opportunity to temporarily cut Chelsea's lead at the top of the Premier League to one point when they face rivals West Ham at the London Stadium on Friday night, but Conte revealed he may not watch the match.
"I have my wife and my daughter arriving and there is the possibility to have a dinner together in London," he said. "It's a good chance to be together."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.