Celebrating Chelsea’s Premier League and FA Cup double at the end of his first season in charge in 2010, Carlo Ancelotti boasted that the club could win the following season’s Champions League without making any changes.
But as Antonio Conte contemplated the possibility of becoming the second Italian to win a League and Cup double at the end of his first season at Stamford Bridge, the message was completely different and perhaps even more ominous for Chelsea’s rivals.
Conte believes finishing this season with two trophies would be a bigger achievement than that of Ancelotti, who inherited a team powered by Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba at their peak, and claims his side are one in transition.
The 47-year-old has made it clear that however successfully Chelsea end the campaign, he expects significant arrivals to help him build a squad a strong as Ancelotti benefited from.
Ancelotti was proved wrong in his assertion that Chelsea did not need change and was sacked at the end of his second trophyless season. Conte will not be making a similar mistake.
Chelsea have topped the Premier League table for months, equalled the record of 13 successive victories and booked their place in the FA Cup final by beating an in-form Tottenham Hotspur team thanks to a Willian brace and goals from Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic,
So just how good Conte believes the Blues can be when, in his eyes, they are the finished article is a frightening prospect for those currently trying to keep up.
“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition,” said head coach Conte. “In this season, we have lost Ivanovic, Mikel and next season we lose John Terry. We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot.
“Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.
“I think that in the period with Carlo [Ancelotti] – and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him – he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad.
“Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time. It’s not easy when you lose these types of players, but we need to show patience to build the foundations and then improve every season.
“If you ask me last season, after our 10th place, and this season you stay on top of the table and you reach the FA Cup final, but you didn’t change a lot, I think it’s great. But we must continue to work and improve.”
Results may say otherwise, but Conte even believes Chelsea are behind Tottenham, for whom Harry Kane and Dele Alli scored at Wembley, in their evolution.
“If you compare our team with Tottenham’s, Mauricio Pochettino has worked for three years,” said Conte. “I started to work only seven or eight months ago. If we are able to take the right players to improve this squad and to continue to work with these players, we can improve for sure.”
In many ways the semi-final success was Conte’s victory. He gambled by leaving out Hazard and Diego Costa with the view of bringing them on to kill the game, and the Belgian did just that.
Just as Conte believes Chelsea can still improve, Cesc Fabregas, who also made a big impact as a late substitute, thinks Hazard can reach another level.
“Eden can be whatever he wants to be,” said Fabregas. “I’ve played with many, many players and sometimes when we have a counter-attack and it’s two against two and he passes the ball, I tell him ‘You have the capability to score by yourself. Do it’.
“He has to do it more often. He has to, for me, be more selfish sometimes, as all the top, top players are. I hope – and I’m sure – he will improve in the future. And then he will be unstoppable.
“Ability-wise, there is only one player above him and we all know who he is – Lionel Messi. Ability-wise he’s up there with the best. Just in my opinion, and I’ve told him many, many times, he needs to be selfish sometimes and have that pure instinct to score more goals and then he will be whatever he wants to be.”
While Conte’s pre-match plan paid off, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino knows his decision to start Heung-Min Son at left wing-back will be scrutinised. But the Argentine defended his decision, even though the South Korean conceded a penalty for a foul on Victor Moses from which Willian scored.
“It is only me who makes the decision and I think the plan was good,” said Pochettino. “The first goal we conceded there was no tactical problem to do with Sonny’s position.
“The second goal was unlucky because for me it was not a penalty. How many times did you see Moses arrive in the final third? One and that ended with the penalty. That was unlucky. They found time to score four and they had only one corner. We had 11. If you see the stats, it was a completely unfair result. But that is football.
“Sure, when you don’t win you allow people – fans, the media – to say that it was not a good selection. I understand that. When you win, you are a genius, when you lose, you are a disaster.”