Conte must set the example as Chelsea chase FA Cup glory
After the disappointment of exiting the Champions League, Antonio Conte has the task of picking up Chelsea's players for Sunday's FA Cup quarterfinal vs. Leicester. Although, it might be the lesser of the two competitions in terms of prestige and global spotlight, the famous old trophy sitting at the top of the Wembley steps is the only piece of silverware still available.
So the players and staff should be motivated and not just for that reason; both games vs. Barcelona gave reason for hope. Wednesday's result was 3-0 but that was largely due to a combination of Lionel Messi's genius, plus isolated errors.
On the plus side, the team shape and organization, plus the invention, direct running and proactivity of individuals on the pitch, saw Chelsea take control for periods at the Camp Nou. Rather than be a cause for dejection, then, it should be a beacon of hope; something from which the players can take some pride and confidence going into the final stretch of the domestic season.
If Wednesday illustrated that this is still a team packed with quality and led by a manager with tactical intelligence, even more will be learned about this side in the coming weeks. Remember that Chelsea put in a highly-praised and disciplined performance in the 1-1 home draw with Barcelona only to meekly surrender at Manchester City 12 days later.
The contrast in quality and attitude was stark and a repeat is not out of the question, given Chelsea's erratic season. Despite a boisterous atmosphere and the reward of a place in the last four of the FA Cup, it remains to be seen if the King Power Stadium will provide as much inspiration as the Camp Nou.
And so it falls upon Conte to ensure the right mentality and application. A team often performs in the image of its manager and that has never been more apt than at Chelsea this season. It does not feel like complete coincidence that the club's on-field troubles gathered pace at the same time as storm clouds were brewing off it between Conte and the board.
The manager's lack of enthusiasm in press conferences and statuesque, arm-folded presence in the technical area seemed to breed similar apathy on the pitch. Conte was a figure of constant motion against Barcelona, having been static at the Etihad Stadium and Chelsea's displays contrasted accordingly.
One thing that should now help is the affirmation of the team's most effective formation. After flirting with other options, 3-4-3 has proven most comfortable and that is also surely true of the need to play with a recognised centre-forward. Olivier Giroud hardly starred on Wednesday night but his presence gave the team a reference point and allowed Eden Hazard and Willian the opportunity to express themselves.
The balance was much better and, while much of the praise for that should be directed to N'Golo Kante's stirring midfield display, it was also telling that the shape was solid when defending deep and going on the front foot, pushing on to Barcelona. With Tottenham and Liverpool still to play this season, this should supply the template to getting the most out these crucial fixtures.
But first Leicester need to be dealt with and that will be no small issue, given that Claude Puel's men have nothing else to play for other than winning the FA Cup for the first time. Sunday's hosts certainly do not lack incentive and, if Chelsea are not on their game it could be difficult afternoon.
The choice of personnel and overall attitude will be very important, therefore, and it would not be a surprise to see alterations to the starting XI, though hopefully not too many given what is at stake. Gary Cahill would be a good man to send into battle and it might make sense for the former Leicester partnership of Kante and Danny Drinkwater to reform on their title-winning stage.
Cesc Fabregas has never been the most energetic of players and, given that this is likely to be a helter-skelter affair, it might be best if he was kept in reserve for later in the game. In any case, his trademark distribution has been letting him down lately so an afternoon off might be best for all Chelsea-related parties.
The Champions League might be over but there is still something to be won. The FA Cup should not be taken lightly by the manager or his players.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.