Antonio Conte insists that he will take “a lot of positive things” from Chelsea’s performance in a 2-1 defeat to West Ham in the EFL Cup fifth round, and believes his team were “unlucky” to emerge on the losing side.
Goals in each half from Cheikhou Kouyate and Edimilson Fernandes were enough for West Ham to set up a quarterfinal clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford, despite Gary Cahill’s late consolation strike in the closing stages of a match marred by crowd trouble at the London Stadium.
Conte elected to make seven changes to the starting XI that beat United 4-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, and after the match the Italian insisted that his fringe players had given him reasons to be optimistic.
“The performance for me was good,” Conte said. “We knew that these types of games are very difficult against a strong team like West Ham.
“We played a good game with good intensity, and we created many chances to score goals. I saw a good spirit in my players because until the end they tried to change the result.
“We created many chances but today we were a bit unlucky in this aspect. It’s a pity that we can’t play in this competition in the future.”
Academy graduates Nathaniel Chalobah and Ola Aina were both handed starts by Conte, who afterwards admitted he was keen to give some of Chelsea’s bright youngsters a chance to impress in a leaner schedule that does not allow for much rotation.
“I think that this cup was very important to check the development of our young players,” he added. “We have good young players and they need to play. For this reason I’m disappointed that we can’t play in this competition in the future.
“They played a good game, with good intensity and good concentration. It’s normal that when you lose you see only bad things, but I think that tonight I found a lot of positive things in this game.
“Usually you learn more after a defeat than a win. We must continue to work but I’m optimistic, because I saw the right spirit and this is very important. You can lose or win, but you want to see always the right spirit. If there is the right spirit you can work in the future.
“Tomorrow we start to work for the game on Sunday because we know it will be very tough against Southampton. They are in a good moment, but I’m sure that with work we can improve a lot and continue in our right way.”
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic dismissed the notion that Chelsea had fielded a weakened team for the match, and voiced his hope that his team will take confidence from a third consecutive win in all competitions.
“It’s very important for us — not just in this competition but in general, to gain more confidence in the team,” he insisted. “Of course to beat Chelsea you have to be on top of your game, and we were.
“In the first half I thought they started better than is until we scored the first goal. After we scored the second goal we defended as a unit, we were also very good in transition when we had the ball, and also when we needed to rest with the ball we kept the ball well.
“It was really great execution of the plan from the players, because otherwise you can’t beat as good a side as Chelsea.
“Chelsea are the benchmark, so to beat them — deservedly, totally — at home was unbelievable. In the second half they put everything they could [on the pitch] apart from Matic.
“You can talk about the players they brought on — Hazard, Costa and Pedro — but they put in [to start] Batshuayi, Oscar and Willian: world-class players. Batshuayi we tried to get him for 30-odd million, half of Europe tried to get him. They have excellent quality.”