ROME — Thibaut Courtois has said Chelsea can settle for nothing less than victory against Manchester United on Sunday but warned they need to “defend first” if they are to succeed in getting their season back on track.
Chelsea were picked off and ultimately humiliated 3-0 by a clinical Roma side at Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday, and after the match Antonio Conte warned his players that they will need to rediscover their “hunger” if they want to compete for major trophies this season.
The defeat and nature of Chelsea’s performance represented the worst possible preparation for the visit of Manchester United on Sunday and, to make matters worse, N’Golo Kante indicated after the match that he may not be fully recovered from the hamstring injury that has sidelined him since the beginning of October.
Courtois, however, was adamant that Chelsea have no further margin for error against United if they want to keep themselves on the fringes of the Premier League title race.
“This is a must-win game,” he said. “Manchester City are already nine points ahead of us, Manchester United four and Tottenham one.
“We must win games like these to remain at the top and close to the other [contenders]. We will try to get the three points and will give our lives for it on Sunday.”
Chelsea have kept just five clean sheets in all competitions this season, and Kante’s prolonged absence has coincided with an increase in the number of individual errors and miscommunications in the Blues’ back line in recent weeks.
“I think we have to start again, maybe have the balance like last season, try to defend first and then look to score goals,” Courtois added.
“This season we are conceding more chances than we did last year. We have to try to get that extra step in, that extra percent to stop actions, not be 90 percent. Maybe with a lot of games, sometimes you maybe go a bit less.
“Obviously it is different to last season. Injuries have been coming and not at a good time. We know how important N’Golo is for us, he is the guy that brings a lot of balance into the team. But we can’t push him to play if he doesn’t feel ready.
“Danny [Drinkwater] was also out for a long time as well. It means Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas have played a lot of games in midfield and obviously that goes into their legs and it is harder for them to keep up the pressure, especially against the midfield three like Roma had.”
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.