Antonio Conte has defended Tiemoue Bakayoko after he was criticised for his performance against Liverpool, though admits the Chelsea midfielder still has plenty of room to improve.
Bakayoko was at fault for Liverpool’s goal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Anfield – failing to poke the ball clear – and was subbed off as Conte tried to engineer an equaliser.
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand was particularly critical, describing his performance as a ‘disgrace’ and questioning the decision to sign him from Monaco.
But Conte defended his young midfielder and believes Bakayoko is still learning and improving – and that will naturally result in occasions when he struggles, as against Liverpool.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of the visit of Swansea on Wednesday, he explained:
‘Don’t forget Bakayoko is a very young player.
‘He’s only 22 years old, for many reasons he played a lot of games and I think he needs for sure to improve in the tactical aspect with us and to go into our idea of football.
‘But for a young footballer to play with this regularity is not simple but I think he’s playing well.
‘It’s normal that you can alternate good performances with other less good performances, but I think he’s a young player working very well.
‘I’m very happy with his commitment, with his behaviour, but for sure he has a lot of space for improvement.’
Antonio Conte has refused to discuss whether Chelsea might recall Ruben Loftus-Cheek from his loan spell at Crystal Palace in January.
The England midfielder has impressed since joining the Eagles on a season-long loan and there has been speculation that Chelsea could take up an option to recall him.
Blues boss Conte opted to take Nathan Ake back to Stamford Bridge last January while the player was on a season-long loan at Bournemouth.
Asked at a press conference on Tuesday whether Loftus-Cheek could be recalled, Conte said: “This is not the right moment to speak about this, during a press conference. It’s important always to have respect for the other team.
“Ruben is another young player with a good prospect, the right prospect to become Chelsea’s player and to play regularly. But I think that now is not the right moment to talk about this topic.”