Antonio Conte believes Chelsea remain a side their more fancied Champions League rivals will be anxious to avoid in Monday’s draw for the knockout phase despite surrendering the leadership of Group C to Roma at the last.
Late opportunities flew wide from the substitutes Willian and Michy Batshuayi as the Premier League champions were held 1-1 by Atlético Madrid, with the visitors and their former Chelsea forward, Diego Costa, duly condemned to life in the Europa League in the new year. Chelsea could now be drawn against Paris Saint‑Germain, who beat them in 2015 and 2016, or Barcelona, currently top of La Liga. Sevilla, if they qualify as winners, or Besiktas are more appealing alternatives.
“But when you go through to the next round in this competition, you must be prepared to face the best teams,” Conte said. “So we must be ready. This is the best tournament. That’s why you want to go through and try to be a protagonist in this tournament. At the same time, our opponents won’t be happy to play against us, so we’ll see what happens.
“I remember during the European Championship in 2016 with the national team we finished first in our group and played against Spain, then Germany and, if we’d beaten Germany, we’d have had to play France. Sometimes it’s not so important [to finish first]. We reached the next round and we must be happy with this. After a performance like this, the coach must be [happy].”
While four of the five English teams having qualified – Liverpool can also do so by avoiding defeat to Spartak Moscow at Anfield on Wednesday – there was a word of warning from Conte over the sides’ prospects of thriving in the latter stages of the Champions League.
“It’s true the level of the Premier League is very high,” he said. “To go with five teams into the next round, that means the level of the league is very high and there is a lot of quality in the players. I think there are also really good coaches. It was not ‘simple’ but ‘easy’ for a lot of these teams to go into the next round.
“But, in the future, we have to see. Don’t forget: here the season is very tough. You have to play a lot of games. When you accumulate games, games, games and then you arrive at the final stage, playing in the quarters or the semis, the English teams have a lot of games in their legs. For this reason, it could be problematic to win [the Champions League].
“But, at the same time, the English teams are very good and have the possibility to win and reach the final of the Champions League. I just ask in what physical condition they would arrive in that last stage?”