Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has tempered expectations ahead of the club’s return to the Champions League, warning that they may not be ready to win the competition this season.
The Premier League champions host Azerbaijan’s Qarabag on Tuesday evening at Stamford Bridge in the Blues’ first fixture in the competition since the 2015-16 campaign.
“For sure in the Champions League we are starting a path,” said Conte, who revealed fit-again Eden Hazard would return to the squad.
“Before winning a competition you need to work very hard and improve every year step by step, and arrive then to be ready for Real Madrid or Bayern Munich or Juventus. You don’t create a big, strong team easily.
“We must understand we are starting a path. I hope this path is short. We will try to be competitive in a short time and not wait three, four or five years.”
Conte, who transformed Chelsea’s fortunes last term in his first season in charge, believes the competitive nature of domestic football leaves English teams at a disadvantage to the European giants.
“In my past sometimes before a Champions League game I could rest players. In England it is not easy to do this. If you want to do this, you risk a lot,” said the former Juventus coach.
“When you play against a medium team you know you risk losing the game [in England]. You know very well in this league there are six or seven teams ready to fight not only for the title, but also for a place in the Champions League and the Europa League. You are never relaxed in England.”
Conte said he would rotate his squad to cope with a run of seven fixtures in 22 days, which started with Saturday’s 2-1 win at Leicester.