Chelsea boss Conte worried over Morata's injury, not lack of confidence

LONDON -- Antonio Conte insisted that he is more worried about Alvaro Morata's back injury than the striker's confidence crisis, and admitted that he does not know when Chelsea will see the best of Ross Barkley.

Morata has missed Chelsea's last three matches in all competitions after being sent off in the Blues' penalty shootout win over Norwich City in the FA Cup third round earlier this month, and remains unable to train with the rest of the first-team squad due to persistent pain in his back.

The Spain international's form has also tailed off sharply over the last two months. He has scored just three goals in 15 appearances for Chelsea since mid-November, missing several gilt-edged chances in the process, and his cold streak has lent more urgency to the Blues' pursuit of a new striker before the close of the January transfer window.

Chelsea are reportedly set to complete an £18 million deal to sign Olivier Giroud from Arsenal on deadline day after a proposed move for Roma frontman Edin Dzeko fell through, but Conte is adamant that the Blues' immediate focus is on easing the physical burden on Morata rather than addressing any psychological issues.

"First of all, you have to consider that this season is a totally different season for Morata," Conte said. "For the first time, he's the No. 9 for a team. In the previous experiences with Real Madrid and Juventus, he was always the first substitution. He wasn't the No. 9 for his team.

"For sure, this is the first experience for him [of being first choice]. He has this sense of responsibility. Now the only problem for him is to recover from his injury in his back, and then find the best physical condition.

"When you miss many games, it means you miss a lot of training sessions and your physical form drops. Now we have to solve the situation of the pain in his back, and then work to get him back into his best physical condition."

Asked if he is worried about Morata's confidence levels, Conte replied: "Now before we have to solve the problem in his back, the pain. Then we'll try and solve the other problems. [We need] to bring him into the best physical condition and then to play. But, I repeat, here everyone trusts him. Everyone, every day, shows this."

Chelsea will complete the purchase of left-back Emerson Palmieri from Roma on deadline day in addition to the potential acquisition of Giroud. The only Blues signing in this window to date is Barkley, who arrived from Everton in a £15m deal at the start of the month.

Barkley remains short of his peak condition as he completes a lengthy rehabilitation from a serious hamstring injury, but Conte -- who was pleasantly surprised by his new signing's physical readiness when he arrived at Cobham -- insisted that the Englishman's biggest challenge in the remainder of this season will be tactical rather than physical.

"My worry is not about his physical condition, but only to go into our idea of football, to understand the movement without the ball and with the ball," Conte said of Barkley. "For this, he needs a bit of period to go into our idea of football, to understand this.

"When you arrive from a bad injury and didn't play for six months, it's not simple to recover very well the best form. But my players are working very well and I gave him the chance in the Carabao Cup against Arsenal, maybe because I was forced to do this. In a normal situation, I'd take more time with him.

"But the player is working very well. The player is working to come into our idea of football. Tomorrow I don't know [if he can play], but tomorrow he could be in contention.

"For sure, we have to put a part of the risk to push the player, to push the player to come into the team quickly, because we need to do this. When you have Morata and Willian out through injury, we don't have many solutions.

"I'm very happy because the player has great potential, and for sure he's changing his way to play. Now he has to think, to think with the ball and without the ball."

Asked what he sees as Barkley's best position, Conte replied: "The way we are playing, he can play like a No. 10, like a striker, on the right or on the left. Of, if we decide to play with three midfielders, he can play on the right or the left."