Gary Cahill insisted that Chelsea’s players remain fully committed to playing for Antonio Conte, but admitted that a relentless fixture list is taking its toll on the squad.
Exiting the Carabao Cup to Arsenal at the semifinal stage on Wednesday prompted renewed speculation about Conte’s future at Stamford Bridge, and the Italian fueled suggestions that he will leave at the end of the season by pointedly stating that he has little influence over the club’s recruitment policy.
Tensions between Conte and the Chelsea board have been building since a troubled summer transfer window. He has also clashed with prominent members of his squad, exiling Diego Costa until an agreement was reached to send him back to Atletico Madrid and dropping David Luiz in November.
But despite numerous setbacks and falling 15 points adrift of rampant Premier League leaders Manchester City, Chelsea have never threatened the kind of prolonged slump in results that has imperiled past managers, and after Sunday’s 3-0 win over Newcastle in the FA Cup fourth round, Cahill reiterated that Conte has the backing of his players.
“Of course we are [100 percent behind him],” he said. “There is nothing between the manager and players, whatsoever. We continue to work hard.
“If you look at the league, if Manchester City hadn’t done what they’ve done, the title would still be there to be won. For them to be in the position they’re in this season, they’ve broken Premier League records. It shows how good they’ve been.
“If they hadn’t done as well as that — I know it sounds obvious — we would still be in with a chance of the title. This season they’ve been fantastic, but we still aim to fight for second place. We have a big month coming up in February, let’s hope we come out at the end of that month in a positive way.”
Asked whether the constant speculation has affected the players, he added: “No — we as players have to make sure of that. This is a case of individual circumstances and situations. It is between the manager and the board. We have no idea about that, we have no idea what’s going on between the lines.
“We just continue to work, give what we can for him and give what we can for our teammates. That’s the way we have to be.
“I have experienced it a lot in my time here, but this has been a successful period. Chelsea is a successful football club and he is a top manager. We can’t have any impact. We just sit and we work and try to produce what he asks of us. He is very experienced and more often than not, we get results.”
Cahill did, however, concede that Chelsea are feeling the effects of a packed schedule. The Blues have played 17 matches in all competitions since the start of December and are now carrying a number of key injuries, with Alvaro Morata (back), Thibaut Courtois (ankle) and Willian (hamstring) all sidelined.
“The last couple of months have been demanding to say the least,” he admitted. “In terms of the the fixture pile-up I wonder if it has been worse than before. I don’t know if it is but it feels very heavy.
“February is a huge, massive month for us with the fixtures coming up. However heavy it is, we are not going to be able to change the fixtures. We just need to find the opportunity to rest, take that chance and be as fresh as we possibly can.
“I’d love to feel how some of the other leagues do right now after having a two-week winter break, to see what that feels like. Aside from that, we just continue.
“The manager has tried to rotate to keep people fresh. But he can only make so many because of the number of personnel in the squad and the importance of every game coming up.
“You get through it on adrenaline and on heart as well. When you’re feeling fatigued, you work even harder if that makes sense. It is what it is.
“I’m not complaining about it, I have done it for years and years. We will just get on with it.”