Conte denies negative forecast has hampered Chelsea

Antonio Conte has called on his players to show pride and desire over the final weeks of what has been a disappointing season.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte   -  Getty Images

Antonio Conte is adamant his pessimistic forecast for Chelsea this season has not contributed to their struggles.

The Italian predicted in August his side would be hard-pushed to replicate their title-winning campaign of last season and he has been shown to have been right with the Blues' 3-1 defeat at home to Tottenham last Sunday leaving them fifth, eight points behind their London rivals in the battle for the remaining place in the Champions League.

Conte said the situation has not come as a surprise.

"For sure, I predicted this season that it would be very difficult for me," he said, ahead of this weekend's clash with relegation-threatened West Ham.

"I predicted this but these are moments we have to face with great desire to change the situation.

"We have only one way, to work hard."

The former Italy and Juventus boss has regularly cut a frustrated figure over the past few months, but he laughed off a question asking if his early-season message had turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

He added: "No, are you joking?

"In this league, we have this problem: to understand the humour of the players. Football is different, you must show the desire to fight. Football is this, not just if the confidence is up or down, or if a player is happy. This is ridiculous for me."

Conte's hangdog appearance has inevitably led to speculation he will leave Chelsea at the end of the season, with former Italy team-mate - and ex-Chelsea boss Gianluca Vialli - even suggesting this week he "can't wait" to quit Stamford Bridge.

Although he admitted Vialli was a friend, Conte said the claims were incorrect and reaffirmed his commitment to the club.

"It's not true. Gianluca is a friend but I have not spoken to him for one year maybe," he explained.

"It's very difficult for me but this season I have listened to a lot of speculation - since the start of the season, not just now.

"The only truth is that I am committed to this club. I have a contract with this club, I am working very hard for this club."

With Champions League qualification looking unlikely, Conte has called on his players to show pride over the remaining weeks.

"We must be realistic and see the defeat [to Tottenham] was a bad defeat for us," he said.

"We must try to do everything to try to continue to have the possibility to play in the Champions League. It won't be easy, we must be realistic but we have to give everything, and show pride, show desire and the will to fight."