SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is putting his players through a rigorous pre-season training campaign as the English champions sense rivals will now only be more committed to toppling them.
“Obviously, as we are champions of the Premier League, every team we face will want to beat us more than before,” Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta told reporters in Singapore on Monday. “So we know it’s going to be harder.”
Which is why Conte is determined to ensure they hit the ground running in defence of their title.
After their 2015 triumph, Chelsea made a woeful start to the following season, with manager Jose Mourinho losing his job before the side stuttered to a 10th-place finish.
Conte took over prior to last season and after guiding the side to the title in his maiden campaign, the Italian is determined to ensure his squad is in the best possible shape ahead of their season-opener against Burnley on Aug. 12.
“We have to work really hard and prepare in the right way for next season,” Conte said in Singapore, where Chelsea are involved in a three-team friendly tournament.
“Being back in the Champions League is great for us and right for the club,” he added on the eve of a match against German champions Bayern Munich.
“The players are all enthusiastic to be in this tournament. It is an extra competition compared to last season but we are working really hard to prepare the team in the right way and find a good fit as soon as possible.
“We will make sure we are fully committed to all competitions next season.”
Conte is happy to have new signing Alvaro Morata in Singapore after the Spanish striker joined Chelsea from Real Madrid last week, and believes the 24-year-old will be a success in England.
“He is a young player with a lot of experience. He can make a big impact in the Premier League. Yes, it is a different type of football compared to where he has played previously, but he is strong and ready for the challenge,” Conte said.
Morata’s fellow Spanish striker Pedro has left the tour, however, after suffering a fractured cheekbone in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Arsenal in Beijing on Saturday after colliding with opposing goalkeeper David Ospina.
“The Pedro injury is worse than we thought,” Conte added. “We were hoping it was just a concussion but we discovered he has a fracture. He will be fitted with a facemask and hopefully he can be back working with us in 10 days.”