John Obi Mikel admits that Chelsea weren’t fit enough last season as they slipped to a disappointing tenth place under Jose Mourinho and caretaker manager Guus Hiddink, but says that Antonio Conte has come in and turned it around.
Chelsea recorded the worst ever Premier League title defence last season and it has been partially put down to a lack of fitness due to a short pre-season under Jose Mourinho.
Conte put his new team through double training sessions during pre-season, whilst he has also revamped his players’ diets, and Mikel thinks that those details could prove the difference after he suffered his worst league finish as a Chelsea player.
“Yes, I think it played a part last season (not being fit enough),” Mikel said. “One thing is for sure, the team is a lot fitter this season. A lot of players are going to be much, much fitter and that is only going to help the team.
“[Double sessions] That’s the way he wants to train, that’s his style, that’s his way that he thinks we can win and that he thinks can get Chelsea back to where they belong. Obviously, quite a lot was made last year that a lot of the players were not fit, so the club decided to go for someone to make sure we are fit.
“The players have responded very well to him, we are going with whatever the manager wants to do in training, everyone is putting in their best and we have to keep going his way.
“We have to make sure we keep doing whatever the manager wants to do and if we can improve the team that way then I think everybody is on board with that.”
Jose Mourinho admitted in August that his decision to give his title-winning players a longer holiday left them short of fitness as his team slipped to only one point above the relegation zone in December.
Chelsea played only four pre-season matches ahead of their attempt to defend their title last season and they failed to win any of their games, while they also lost against Arsenal in the Community Shield, but Mikel thinks that everyone at the club has learned from their mistakes.
“Well, I think we lost quite a lot of games in the previous pre-season,” added Mikel. “I think in this year’s pre-season, we didn’t lose as many games as we lost in the previous season under Mourinho.
“I have never run as much, in any pre-season ever, as I ran and I think that is going to play a massive part. It is only going to help us through the season. I think when teams are getting tired, we are still going to be fit and that is only going to help and I think that is one of the major differences I can see.
“I don’t want to look at the games, but in the training and the philosophy is quite different and, I think, he knows what he wants and if we can do that I think we are going to be successful.”