Chelsea manager Antonio Conte bit back at criticism from pundits Jamie Redknapp and Gary Neville, insisting they were “stupid” to question his tactics in the 1-0 loss to Manchester City.
The Premier League title holders, who played without a recognised striker for 78 minutes, ceded 71 per cent of possession to the champions elect and failed to register a single shot on target as they lost thanks to Bernardo Silva’s goal early in the second half.
City completed 902 passes, more than any other Premier League side have managed in a game since the 2003-04 season, and Conte’s approach was lambasted by both Redknapp and Neville in their roles on Sky Sports.
Neville said Chelsea’s performance was “absolutely unacceptable” and accused Conte’s players of being “mannequins”, while Redknapp called their approach “anti-football” and “a crime against football”.
When Redknapp’s comments were put to Conte, he said: “I think in this moment you have to accept every critic, but I am not so stupid to play against Manchester City open and to lose 3-0 or 4-0.
“If I remember well, a few days ago, Arsenal played twice against them and then you criticise a lot (Arsenal manager Arsene) Wenger because they concede three goals in only 30 minutes.
“I think that the pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics because I think that you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way.”
In following up their defeats to Arsenal, Watford and Manchester United with another loss at the Etihad Stadium, Chelsea have now lost four consecutive away games for the first time since 2003.
It also left the reigning champions 25 points behind leaders City and Conte admitted the game emphasised the current gulf in class between the sides.
“We must have a big regret for the defeat against Bournemouth, against Watford, against United, but I don’t think today because today we played against a team that is showing to be a strong team,” he added.
“I think that they showed the difference between them and us in this moment – 25 points is a big gap.
“I think that we can have regret for the other games, but not for this because I think the effort of the players was an important effort.
“When you play against Manchester City, against this type of team, they are showing fantastic quality, but at the same time fantastic mentality.
“When you match quality and mentality I think that you become unstoppable.”
Alvaro Morata, without a goal since Boxing Day, was dropped to the bench by Conte who deployed attacking midfielder Eden Hazard at the head of his attack.
Yet the Belgian was anonymous throughout and cut a frustrated figure as he failed to have any impact, with Conte waiting until the 78th minute to bring on a striker in Olivier Giroud, and then delaying Morata’s arrival until the final minute.
It had looked like Conte was going to bring Morata on in the 82nd minute but the Spaniard sat back down and put his jacket on again before eventually being summoned just before the contest entered stoppage time.
“I tried to wait because the substitution was with Hazard and you hope until the end that a player like Hazard can invent something,” Conte said.