Title-Winning Conte Says ‘Ciao’ As Inter Milan Dream Ends In Cash Row

From L) Inter Milan’s Vice-President Javier Zanetti, Inter Milan’s President Steven Zhang, Inter Milan’s Italian coach Antonio Conte, Inter Milan’s Sports Coordinator Gabriele Oriali and Inter Milan’s CEO Giuseppe Marotta hold the Scudetto Trophy as Inter players and staff celebrate winning the Serie A 2020-2021 championship after their last Italian Serie A football match Inter Milan vs Udinese on May 23, 2021 at the San Siro stadium in Milan. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

 

Antonio Conte parted company with Inter Milan on Wednesday just days after lifting their first Serie A title in 11 years amid clashes with the club’s cash-strapped Chinese owners on the way forward.

The ambitious Italian refused Suning’s planned cost-cutting which would have prevented him from building the team he wanted to challenge at home and in Europe.

The former Chelsea and Juventus boss took over in May 2019 on a three-year contract worth a reported 12 million euros ($14 million) annually.

But the 51-year-old leaves the San Siro one year early, Inter confirming “an agreement has been reached with Antonio Conte for the termination of his contract by mutual consent”.

Inter Milan’s Italian coach Antonio Conte shouts instructions during the Italian Serie A football match Inter Milan vs Udinese on May 23, 2021 at the San Siro stadium in Milan.
MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

“Antonio Conte will forever remain a part of our club’s history,” the statement added.

Severing Conte’s contract has cost the club a reported seven million euros ($8.5 million), while his final year’s salary would have been around 12 million.

As part of the deal Conte will not be allowed to coach another Serie A club next season, according to reports.

Among the names being touted to replace him are Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi and former Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, who has also been linked with a return to the Turin club.

For Conte, future destinations could include Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid.

‘Like a war zone’

A demanding coach, whose training sessions were described by Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku as ‘like a war zone,’ Conte leaves Inter at the summit of Serie A, a feat last achieved by Jose Mourinho, who won the treble with the club in 2010.

It was a fifth league title for Conte having won three with Juventus between 2012 and 2014 and the Premier League with Chelsea in 2018.

But tensions had been ongoing, having already threatened to leave last summer after losing the Europa League final to Sevilla and finishing second in the league to Juventus.

Despite a second Champions League group stage exit this season Inter clinched their 19th Scudetto with a 12-point lead on AC Milan and with four games remaining.

“This is one of the most important successes of my career,” Conte said.

“Deciding to join Inter was not easy, the team was not equipped to win immediately.

“Furthermore, the opponent was Juventus for whom I had worked for a long time. Today we can say that our sacrifices have paid off.”

Conte rebuilt the ‘Nerazzurri,’ getting the best out of players including former Manchester United star Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and Nicolo Barella, while others like Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic overcame initial difficulties to adapt to Conte’s style.

Captain Samir Handanovic and Lukaku both paid tribute to Conte on social media.

“You came at the right time and basically changed me as a player and made me even stronger mentally,” said Lukaku, Inter’s top scorer the past two seasons.

“Winning is all that matters to you. Thank you for all you did. I owe you a lot.”

Slovenian Handanovic, 36, who won his first trophy after nine years with the club, added: “You were the one who always raised the bar and put the right pressure on everyone… the one who made the difference. Thanks mister.”

Financial woes

Inter registered losses of 100 million euros ($122 million) last season mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Suning Group shut down their Chinese club Jiangsu FC in February months after winning the Chinese Super League title.

Five days ago, Inter secured a cash injection worth 275 million euros with US investment firm Oaktree, in the form of a loan reported to be over three years.

In this context, Suning wants to save as much as possible both on the purchase of new players and salaries, and possibly selling those with the highest value, an approach unacceptable for Conte.

Conte’s three-year spell at Juventus remains the longest of a career already spanning seven clubs, and the Italian national team.

He took Bari and Siena into Serie A, began Juventus’ nine-year domination of the Italian top-flight, guided an unfancied Italy to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and won the Premier League in his first season at Chelsea.

But he has never tasted European success, falling short with both Juventus and Chelsea before his near-miss with Inter.

AFP

Antonio Conte Commits Future To Inter Milan

File photo: Inter Milan’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte gives instructions during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match Inter Milan vs Slavia Prague on September 17, 2019, at the San Siro stadium in Milan.
Marco Bertorello / AFP

 

Antonio Conte will continue at the helm of Inter Milan next season, the club confirmed on Tuesday, only days after the fiery Italian hinted he was ready to quit after just one campaign.

Conte held a “constructive meeting focused on continuity and strategy” with the club’s Chinese president Steven Zhang and team management which lasted just over three hours in a villa outside Milan.

“The two parties laid the foundations to continue working together on the club’s project,” the club said in a statement.

Inter opted for continuity after finishing second just one point behind champions Juventus, with the Chinese owners also confirming confidence in the entire management team.

Conte will now lead the club’s bid to topple Juventus with coaching novice Andrea Pirlo having replaced Maurizio Sarri as coach at the nine-time reigning Serie A champions.

The 51-year-old Conte’s departure was being heralded following an outburst after Inter Milan’s 3-2 Europa League final defeat to Sevilla last week.

 

Sevilla’s players celebrate with the trophy after winning the UEFA Europa League final football match against Inter Milan on August 21, 2020, in Cologne, western Germany. Lars Baron / POOL / AFP

 

“Now we’ll return to Milan, we’ll take a couple of days off. We will try to plan the future of Inter with or without me,” said Conte, after the team missed out on a first trophy since 2011.

“It has been a very tough season from all points of view, the best decision must be taken for the good of Inter, with the utmost cordiality.”

“I didn’t like some situations.”

The former Chelsea and Juventus boss took over in May 2019 on a three-year contract worth a reported 12 million euros ($14 million) a season.

But his relationship with club management and CEO Giuseppe Marotta, in particular, was reported to be tense.

On the final day of the domestic season, Conte slammed the fact that players had been offered “little protection from the club”.

“I don’t want another year like that.”

Marotta, however, insisted last week that “everything was forgotten” after Conte’s heated criticism.

It was not the first time Conte has publicly complained about the club.

Conte was also critical after the club’s Champions League group-stage exit which he blamed on a lack of investment despite the signing of Romelu Lukaku for 75 million euros.

But he still managed to build a competitive team around strikers Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, which Zhang said made the club “optimistic for the future”.

“Conte and his technical staff are doing a great job,” said Zhang.

Former Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri had been ready to succeed Conte, whom he also replaced in Turin in 2014, should the former Italy boss quit, according to reports.

Allegri parted company with Juventus in 2019 and has also been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, but preferred to stay in Italy.

AFP

 

Lukaku On Song As Inter Spank Shakhtar To Reach Europa League Final


Inter Milan’s Argentinian forward Lautaro Martinez (hidden) score the 3-0 past Shakhtar Donetsk’s Ukrainian goalkeeper Andrey Pyatov during the UEFA Europa League semi-final football match Inter Milan v Shakhtar Donetsk on August 17, 2020 in Duesseldorf, western Germany. Lars Baron / POOL / AFP

 

 

Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez both scored twice as Inter Milan stormed into a first European final in 10 years with a 5-0 thrashing of Shakhtar Donetsk in Dusseldorf.

Danilo D’Ambrosio was also on target for Antonio Conte’s men, who will face Sevilla in Friday’s final in Cologne.

The Italian giants have endured a lean decade since winning the Champions League in 2010, but closed the gap on Juventus at the top of Serie A to just one point in Conte’s first season in charge and are now one win away from a first trophy in nine years.

Martinez and Lukaku’s prolific partnership has been the source of much of Inter’s success and they took their tally to a combined 54 for the season.

 


Inter Milan’s Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring the 5-0 goal during the UEFA Europa League semi-final football match Inter Milan v Shakhtar Donetsk on August 17, 2020, in Duesseldorf, western Germany. Lars Baron / POOL / AFP

 

After a slow start, Martinez rose highest to power home Nicolo Barella’s cross to open the scoring on 19 minutes.

Shakhtar are one of European football’s great survivors as the Ukrainian champions continue to thrive despite not playing a match in their home city of Donetsk for six years due to a war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatists.

 


Inter Milan’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte shakes hands with Shakhtar Donetsk’s Portuguese coach Luis Castro after the UEFA Europa League semi-final football match Inter Milan v Shakhtar Donetsk on August 17, 2020 in Duesseldorf, western Germany. Sascha Steinbach / POOL / AFP

 

Luis Castro’s men had scored 14 goals in five Europa League games since dropping into the competition form the Champions League, but their talented array of Brazilian forwards barely laid a glove on a characteristically well-organised Conte defence.

At the other end, Martinez was always lively and only a brilliant save from 36-year-old Andriy Pyatov denied him a classy second as he won the ball 30 yards from goal and immediately lobbed the ball goalwards early in the second half.

Shakhtar had one golden chance to level when Mykola Matviyenko’s cross picked out Junior Moraes, but the Brazilian-born Ukrainian international’s header was too close to Samir Handanovic.

Two minutes later, Inter landed the killer blow when D’Ambrosio met Marcelo Brozovic’s corner with a powerful header.

Lukaku extended his run of scoring in now 10 straight Europa League games, but the Belgian was made to wait as Pyatov got down well to save his first big sight of goal.

Martinez showed the way with by finding the bottom corner with a brilliant quick hit that gave Pyatov no time to set himself after Shakhtar were caught in possession inside their own half for his 21st goal of the season.


Shakhtar Donetsk’s Portuguese coach Luis Castro follows from the sidelines during the UEFA Europa League semi-final football match Inter Milan v Shakhtar Donetsk on August 17, 2020, in Duesseldorf, western Germany. Sascha Steinbach / POOL / AFP

 

Lukaku then got in on the act 12 minutes from time as this time Martinez played provider before his strike partner slotted low into the far corner.

Five minutes later the former Manchester United striker had his 33rd goal of the campaign by accelerating away from a slow Shakhtar backline before firing through Pyatov’s legs.

AFP

Real Madrid May Sack Lopetegui, Appoint Conte As Replacement

Real Madrid´’s newly appointed coach Julen Lopetegui gestures during his official presentation at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on June 14, 2018. OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP

 

Julen Lopetegui’s brief and inglorious reign as Real Madrid coach could come to an end on Monday with the defending European champions tipped to appoint Antonio Conte as his replacement. 

Madrid were thrashed 5-1 by great rivals Barcelona on Sunday as Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick, surely sealing Lopetegui’s fate.

According to Spanish media, Real directors are set to meet later on Monday afternoon, when Lopetegui’s sacking could be confirmed.

He was named coach only 139 days ago, with his decision to accept the post costing him the chance to lead Spain at the World Cup.

But Madrid‘s dreadful recent run showed no sign of abating at the Camp Nou. They have now managed one win in their last seven matches, sit ninth in La Liga and earlier this month went more than eight hours without a goal.

Sports daily AS called the defeat a “lethal rout” on its front page on Monday, and it is a far cry from Sergio Ramos hoisting a third consecutive Champions League trophy in May.

After Sunday’s game, Ramos pointedly stated that managing the dressing room at Real is more important than technical knowledge. Some now believe, perhaps club president Florentino Perez included, that the team needs a firmer hand.

Zinedine Zidane and Lopetegui have both been keen to afford freedom to the players while Conte is seen as a demanding coach, meticulous in his tactical preparation and unrelenting when it comes to defensive organisation.

“I’ve always had a good relationship with all the coaches,” Ramos said. “Respect is earned, it isn’t imposed. Those are the coaches with whom we’ve won titles. Managing the dressing room is more important than the knowledge of a coach.”

The finger of blame is not only being pointed at Lopetegui, with Perez also being criticised for his failure to sign a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo after the Portuguese superstar departed for Juventus.

“It is not just Julen’s fault”, read the headline on the front page of Marca, Spain’s biggest selling daily.

 Fractious 

Conte is available after being sacked by Chelsea in July. He had led them to the Premier League title in 2017 in his first season when a switch to a three-man defence was hailed as a brilliant, and decisive, strategic move.

But they finished fifth in his second year when the Italian grew increasingly agitated and fractious. He criticised the club’s transfer policy and fell out with Diego Costa, who was eventually sold to Atletico Madrid.

Conte would be taking over a Madrid team that is now seven points behind Barcelona, who returned to the top of the table after their emphatic win. Ramos insisted, though, the title is not lost yet.

“There are people that would believe, others that wouldn’t,” Ramos said. “I have won La Liga from 10 points behind. The key to success is to work. Madrid never gives up when it can turn the situation around.”

All the failures that have underlined their problems under Lopetegui were on show in the Clasico: poor finishing, frantic defending and key players performing well below par, let alone at their best.

Lopetegui pointed to misfortune too, as Luka Modric hit the post at 2-1, while Suarez’s second came from a penalty, awarded only after consultation with the Video Assistant Referee.

“We feel we could have turned the game around, we had chances to equalise, and go on and win,” Lopetegui said. “But it did not happen, and there was more bad luck, more injuries, and the third goal killed our hopes. The punishment was excessive, 5-1 does not reflect the game.”

Madrid midfielder Casemiro was less generous. “What we have shown today is what we have shown all season,” said the Brazilian.

“We have to run more, stand up more, fight more. We have played well in spells, and today we started the second half well but that is this season. We are a disaster, all playing very badly, all of us.”

Madrid‘s director of institutional relations Emilio Butragueno dodged a question about Lopetegui’s future afterward. “This is not the moment to talk about that,” he said.

AFP

David Luiz ‘Confused’ Under Conte, Says Sarri

Chelsea’s Brazilian defender David Luiz attends a team training session at Chelsea’s Cobham training facility in Stoke D’Abernon, southwest of London. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

David Luiz was left puzzled by his treatment under former Chelsea coach Antonio Conte, according to new Stamford Bridge boss Maurizio Sarri.

Luiz had been an central figure in Chelsea’s title win in Conte’s first season as boss, in 2016-17, but scarcely featured after the 3-0 loss at Roma on October 31 last year.

The Brazil defender, 31, had a rumoured falling-out with Conte and a series of injuries, not featuring at all after the February loss at Watford.

“Two seasons ago he was a protagonist,” said Sarri. “Then six months ago he was not playing, so he was a little confused.”

Chelsea are unbeaten in the Premier League this season, with five wins and two draws, and came within minutes of inflicting Liverpool’s first loss on Saturday.

What Sarri likes about Luiz could be a trait that explains his exile under Conte.

“He’s direct. If he has to say something to the manager he has to talk to me,” Sarri said. “I like very much direct people.

“When I arrived here immediately I had the feeling he’s a very good player for my way of football because he’s a centre-back who is very technical.

“Then I appreciate his qualities as a man. He’s really better than I thought before.”

Luiz is thriving under Sarri.

“Sarri is giving us a lot of happiness to play football. We are trying to enjoy,” he told Chelsea TV.

“He gives us a lot of confidence. He shows us what he wants. He gives us the details about the game.”

AFP

‘No Chance’ Willian Would Have Stayed At Chelsea Under Conte

Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Willian warms up before the English Premier League football match between Huddersfield Town and Chelsea at the John Smith’s stadium in Huddersfield, northern England on August 11, 2018. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Chelsea winger Willian has admitted there is “no chance” he would have remained at the club had former manager Antonio Conte not been replaced by Maurizio Sarri last month.

Conte was dismissed just four weeks before the start of the season despite winning the Premier League in his debut campaign and the FA Cup last season.

However, the Italian paid for fallouts with a number of senior players and failing to qualify for the Champions League when he was finally dismissed after months of speculation over his future.

Willian was also linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge with Chelsea rejecting a bid from Barcelona over the summer.

But he looks set to stay in London with the transfer deadline for Premier League clubs now having passed, meaning the Blues are unlikely to entertain any further bids from foreign clubs.

“No chance. No,” the Brazilian told ESPN when asked if he would still be at the club had Conte remained in charge after Saturday’s 3-0 win over Huddersfield on Sarri’s Premier League debut.

“I’m here because I want to play for Chelsea. I will only leave if Chelsea want me to go.”

Sarri has warned it will take time to master the brand of free-flowing attacking football he implemented at Napoli.

But his desire to play on the front foot has already endeared him to Willian after two seasons under Conte’s rigorous tactical approach that prioritised making Chelsea hard to beat.

That approach was rarely successful against Arsenal, who Chelsea host at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Conte won just one of eight meetings against their London rivals, but Willian expects a different outcome thanks to Sarri’s approach.

“We have a great game to play against Arsenal and we want to win again,” he added.

“I think we have a good chance to turn the results around against them because now we have a different way to play football.

“The manager tells us to play, to enjoy ourselves on the pitch, with responsibility. Now we have a different style, that’s why we can create problems for Arsenal.”

AFP

Conte Warns Chelsea To Shape Up Ahead Of Cup Final

Chelsea’s Italian Head Coach, Antonio Conte                                                                Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Antonio Conte claims Chelsea have no chance of an FA Cup final victory over Manchester United unless they improve quickly after questioning the desire of his players. 

The Italian has demanded a vast improvement after a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle on Sunday ended a disappointing Premier League season which has seen last year’s title winners fail to qualify for the Champions League.

Conte’s side have a chance to atone for a below-par fifth-place finish — which condemned them to a place in next season’s Europa League — when they face United at Wembley on May 19.

In what is widely expected to be Conte’s last game in charge as Chelsea come up against former manager Jose Mourinho, the 48-year-old acknowledged his side need to up their levels in all departments to have any hope of clinching the trophy for the first time since 2012.

“We wanted to end the season in the best possible way, but we can do better than this,” he said.

“For that, I’m the first to answer for this bad game. Newcastle showed greater desire and fight, and if we play like this in the FA Cup final we don’t have a chance.

“We have six days to change our approach, our desire, our will to fight because we can do much better.”

Conte contradicted reports the Cup final will bring the curtain down on his two-year reign.

He has 12 months left on his current contract, and when questioned about his future, the former Italy coach added: “I have a contract, I’m committed and the club know very well the situation.

“Will Saturday be my last match? No, I don’t think it will be. The most important thing is the club, not speculation about me.”

Benitez set for talks 

Chelsea needed a victory at Newcastle to have any chance of fulfilling their slim hopes of a top four finish, but they were well below par and ended with 23 fewer points than their title-winning campaign 12 months ago.

“To finish fifth is a big disappointment. How damaging is it not to be in the Champions League? You’ll have to ask the club about that,” Conte added.

Newcastle sealed an impressive 10th place finish on their return to the top-flight thanks to two second-half goals from Ayoze Perez after Dwight Gayle opened the scoring before the interval.

Question marks also remain over the future of Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez, who is set for key talks with the club’s owner Mike Ashley in the next week to discuss his potential summer transfer budget as he looks to build on an encouraging campaign.

“That reception I received from our supporters at the end our supporters makes me really proud,” admitted Benitez, who was serenaded by 50,000 fans at the final whistle demanding he remains in charge.

The Champions League-winning former Liverpool manager ranks his achievement in guiding Newcastle to a top half finish among the highlights of his glittering coaching career.

With a year remaining on his contract, Benitez added: “Maybe this achievement could be close to the top trophies that I’ve won.

“If we want to achieve something, then we have to understand what we need to achieve that. We have to sit down talk and see where we are.

“We have to be sure we do the right things. The fans have ambitions, we have ambitions and we need to know if everyone has the same feeling.

“We’re still talking and we will see what happens.”

AFP

Hernandez Leaves Chelsea’s Top-Four Bid In Tatters

Chelsea’s German defender Antonio Rudiger (up) vies with West Ham United’s Mexican striker Javier Hernandez during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge in London on April 8, 2018. Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Antonio Conte slammed his misfiring Chelsea stars as their hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League suffered a potentially fatal blow in a 1-1 draw against West Ham on Sunday.

Conte’s side went ahead through Cesar Azpilicueta’s first-half strike at Stamford Bridge.

But Chelsea missed a host of chances to increase their advantage and were made to pay when Javier Hernandez came off the bench to snatch the leveller with 17 minutes left.

With fifth-placed Chelsea lagging 10 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham with only six games remaining, this frustrating result should end their challenge to qualify for the Champions League.

Chelsea were booed off at full-time and, asked if they could still make the top four, Conte said: “I don’t know. We will try to do our best. I don’t know what we can change.”

Turning his anger on Chelsea’s wasteful finishing, Conte said: “We must be frustrated. We are in this position because we have wasted good chances to get three points.

“We are not clinical. It’s a pity because we dominated the game.

“We are talking about a draw and that is incredible. I think with this game we can see our season. We create a lot of chances but we cannot take them.

“When this happens regularly and you stay in this position, it means you have problems. Other teams in the league are more clinical. This is the truth. We have to improve.”

West Ham, now six points clear of the relegation zone, were ecstatic to escape with a point despite a largely limp display.

But it was a disappointing conclusion to a miserable week for Chelsea, who were mourning the death of their former star Ray Wilkins.

Wilkins died at the age of 61 after suffering a cardiac arrest.

The former England midfielder, who played for Chelsea for six years in the 1970s and had several spells as the club’s assistant coach, was remembered by fans who laid flowers outside the stadium.

Inside, Chelsea and West Ham supporters, usually fierce rivals, united to sing “there’s only one Ray Wilkins” and held aloft a huge flag with his image before holding a minute’s applause.

Respects paid, Chelsea had to focus on finding a way to end a damaging run of only three league wins in 2018.

Eden Hazard’s indifferent form has epitomised Chelsea’s struggles and the Belgian playmaker had gone seven games without a goal.

 Temporary reprieve

Chelsea were in control but when Alvaro Morata found the back of the net from Hazard’s pass, the Spain striker’s effort was ruled out for offside.

Hazard was looking more like his old self and he combined with Cesc Fabregas to prise open the West Ham defence, but Morata’s deft back-flick rolled wide.

Back in the groove, Hazard provided the impetus for another flowing Chelsea move that saw Willian’s shot pushed over by West Ham goalkeeper Joe Hart.

It was only a temporary reprieve for West Ham as Conte’s men took a 36th-minute lead from the resulting short corner.

Victor Moses scooped a cross towards Morata and he headed down to Azpilicueta, who controlled before poking a soft shot past Hart for his first goal since October.

Willian was inches away from doubling Chelsea’s lead early in the second half after Hazard’s clever back-heel gave the Brazilian space to shoot just wide.

Morata has endured a difficult first year with Chelsea and his fortunes weren’t improving as he headed over from a corner before having another effort disallowed for offside.

All those near-misses came back to haunt Chelsea in the 73rd minute.

Mark Noble pumped a long ball into the Chelsea area and Blues captain Gary Cahill responded with a mistimed header that dropped for Marko Arnautovic.

A quick pass from Arnautovic found Hernandez and the striker, on for just three minutes, drilled a fine finish past Thibaut Courtois.

Marcos Alonso almost spared Chelsea’s blushes with a thunderous strike, but Hart finished as West Ham’s hero with superb saves to keep out that effort and one from an Olivier Giroud header.

AFP

Conte Targets FA Cup, Champions League Qualification After Chelsea’s Euro Exit

Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte gestures during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England on March 4, 2018.  Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Antonio Conte has set his sights on winning the FA Cup and qualifying for the Champions League as Chelsea bid to bounce back from their disappointment in Barcelona.

Conte’s side were knocked out of the Champions League on Wednesday as Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona won 3-0 in their last 16 second leg clash at the Camp Nou.

That leaves the FA Cup as Chelsea’s last chance to win a trophy this season and the Blues resume that mission on Sunday when they travel to Leicester in the quarter-finals.

Chelsea are also fifth in the Premier League, four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham with eight games remaining.

Tottenham are their next league opponents on April 1 in a match crucial to Chelsea’s hopes of a top-four finish and qualifying for Europe’s elite club competition next term.

“We have to try to do both. To try to reach the semi-final in the FA Cup it won’t be easy. Leicester is a good team. In the last game we played at home we suffered against them,” Conte told reporters on Friday.

“Then to try to do our best also in the league, to find a place in the Champions League. It won’t be easy.”

Conte has rotated his options in previous FA Cup rounds, but will field his first-choice line-up against the Foxes.

“Now we are not playing every three days. We played Barcelona, but we’ve had whole weeks to recover and rest. For this reason I’ll pick the best solution for Sunday’s game,” he said.

Like Conte’s team, Manchester United and Tottenham crashed out of the Champions League in the last 16, meaning the FA Cup represents their final chance of silverware this season as well.

“To win a trophy in England is always very tough,” Conte added.

“Before playing the final you have to face strong teams. It’s normal.

“This competition there is United, Tottenham, but also other teams.

“They want to go to the next round to try to write the history of this competition.”

AFP

Conte Happy To Have Selection Headache For Barca Clash

Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte looks on during the English FA Cup fifth round football match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge in London on February 16, 2018.
Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte welcomed his selection headache ahead of a vital few weeks for the English champions after a much-changed side thrashed Hull City 4-0 to reach the FA Cup quarter finals on Friday.

Willian was the star of the show with two fabulous strikes from outside the box, while Pedro Rodriguez and Olivier Giroud with his first for the club also struck as all four goals came in the first-half.

Conte had left Thibaut Courtois, Cesar Azpilicueta, N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard out of his squad before Barcelona’s visit to Stamford Bridge for the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on Tuesday.

“Before an important game, against Barcelona, tonight I go to my house with many doubts in my mind, which is the best starting XI to start the game against Barcelona,” said Conte.

“But it’s right to be so. We must take the right time to make the best decision to pick the best XI to start that game.”

In between the two legs against the Catalan giants, Chelsea travel to Manchester United and Manchester City on Premier League duty as they battle for a place in the top four.

However, Conte believes victory, allied to a 3-0 win over West Brom on Monday, has restored the confidence needed to beat Barca to a Chelsea side that was reeling after back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford less than two weeks ago.

“We are talking about a massive game. But now, we must be confident,” added the Italian.

“I consider Barcelona one of the best teams in the world. In one side, you must be a bit sad to play against them, but, on the other hand, you must be excited.

“You have to try and compete with them at this level. It won’t be easy, for sure, but we must have the right confidence and then we’ll see what happens.”

 Willian makes case 

Willian did more than most to try and force his way into Conte’s side for Tuesday.

The Brazilian scored from long-range off both feet and saw another effort come back of the post two minutes from time.

“The hat-trick was almost there, I tried, but the most important thing was the win,” said Willian.

“After a difficult moment we are back to winning games. When you are winning games the confidence goes high. Now we have to carry on.”

A perfect night for Chelsea was rounded off by Giroud bagging his first goal for the club following a deadline day move from Arsenal last month.

“I was waiting for it. I had a couple of chances in previous games. It was important for me to score my first goal. It’s relieved me a little bit,” he said.

“We can see the team had a good team cohesion. It was important to bounce back after some disappointing results.”

Conte was forced to field a side without a natural striker for defeats against Bournemouth and Watford, but now has competition for places up front as Alvaro Morata continued his comeback from a back injury for the final 20 minutes.

And in a further injury boost, Conte confirmed left wing-back Marcos Alonso will be fit to face Barca.

AFP

Unconcerned Conte Puts Ball In Chelsea’s Court

Watford’s Dutch defender Daryl Janmaat (C) scores past Chelsea’s Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois during the English Premier League football match between Watford and Chelsea at Vicarage Road Stadium in Watford, north of London on February 5, 2018. Glyn KIRK / AFP

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said he will lose no sleep over the threat he could be sacked less than a year after winning the Premier League following a 4-1 thrashing at Watford on Monday.

The champions have now conceded seven goals in their last two outings after also going down 3-0 at home to Bournemouth last week to put their chances of Champions League qualification for next season in serious peril.

“Tomorrow is another day. I can be the Chelsea coach or not, what is the problem?” said Conte. “I go to sleep without a problem.

“I try to do everything and, if this is enough ok, otherwise the club take a different decision. The life goes on.”

Defeat leaves Chelsea still lagging in fourth and just a point ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the battle for the top four.

Conte has repeatedly complained throughout the campaign at his lack of input towards the club’s recruitment strategy.

Once more the Italian lined up without a recognised striker at Vicarage Road with Alvaro Morata sidelined by injury and new-signing Olivier Giroud deemed fit enough only for a place on the bench.

However, Conte also delivered some stinging criticism to his players, who he said “played with fear”.

“I try to continue to work to try to improve different aspects of my players, but today I think our performance was very poor,” added Conte.

“For sure I have to take the responsibility because maybe I made the wrong decision for the starting XI.

“To play football in a big club it means you must have personality. It is simple to play when there is the confidence.

“In this type of moment you can see who is (made) for a great club, to play with personality to risk something.”

– ‘A loser finds excuses’ –
Chelsea’s task wasn’t made any easier when Tiemoue Bakayoko was sent-off after just half an hour for two quickfire bookable offences.

Troy Deeney’s penalty put the hosts in front just before the break, but Chelsea were offered a lifeline eight minutes from time by a brilliant 25-yard strike from Eden Hazard.

And Conte was particularly annoyed with his side’s reaction in the closing stages as they conceded three times in the final six minutes to Daryl Janmaat, Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra.

“In the second-half I saw great will and desire, but a lot of confusion. We were able to draw and I think in that moment we must be good to manage the situation, to understand the moment.

“A great team must do this, instead in 10 minutes we concede three goals.”

Conte also refused to accept injuries and fatigue are the reason for the stark difference in Chelsea’s performances in results from his first season where they didn’t have the distraction of European football.

“For sure it is a difficult moment and if we want to find excuses or alibis always we can find everything,” added Conte.

“This is not my way to face the situation to solve the problem.

“The winner finds a solution, the loser finds excuses. In my life I like to be a winner and I am a winner.”

AFP

Conte Committed To Chelsea Despite Italy Interest

Chelsea's Conte Seeks Respite In Yoga
Conte Photo: Ian KINGTON / AFP

Antonio Conte insists speculation over his job will not derail his attempt to get his struggling Chelsea side back on track in the fight for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

The English champions need to bounce back from a humiliating 3-0 home thrashing by Bournemouth on Wednesday, which put further strain on Conte’s relationship with the Chelsea hierarchy, after the Italian described his preparations for the match a ‘disaster’ due to a busy few days of transfer business before the January window closed.

However, Conte, who led Chelsea to the title in a spectacular opening campaign in England last season, reiterated his intention to at least see out his contract until 2019 despite speculation he could return to fill the vacant position as coach of the Italian national team.

“I still have 18 months on my contract with Chelsea,” said the Italian. “My intention, my will, my desire is to respect this contract.”

Bournemouth’s victory at Stamford Bridge in midweek brought back memories of Chelsea’s opening day collapse at home to Burnley in an early sign that a bigger challenge awaited Conte in his second season.

“From the start of the season after our defeat against Burnley (there has been) a lot of speculation about my sacking,” added Conte.

“But I’m not interested in this and my only desire is to continue to work, to be focused on my team to try to do the best with this team.

“I trust in my work and this is the only way that brought me to be one of the best managers. I don’t trust in anything else, only in my work and my job.”

Chelsea’s squad was bolstered by the arrival of Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmieri on the final day of the transfer window, but Conte doesn’t expect either player to be fit enough to make an immediate impact.

 Bad injury 

Palmieri has only recently returned from a long layoff due to a cruciate ligament injury, whilst Giroud suffered from a hamstring problem in his final weeks at Arsenal.

“We have to wait because don’t forget that especially for Palmieri we are talking about a player he’s coming from a bad injury,” Conte added.

“Olivier is coming (back) from a muscular injury, he was out for 50 days before he played 15 minutes in the game against Swansea (for Arsenal, on Tuesday). We are working with him and we have to check his physical condition. It won’t be easy for him to start.”

Giroud’s lack of match fitness means Conte is once again struggling for options up front with Alvaro Morata still absent due to a back injury and Michy Batshuayi having left to join Borussia Dortmund as part of a three-way deal between Chelsea, Arsenal and the German giants that saw Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang join the Gunners.

Watford are in desperate need of the points themselves as new manager Javi Gracia targets a first win since he replaced the sacked Marco Silva.

The Hornets have managed just one win from their last 12 Premier League matches and, despite sitting 11th in the table, are just four points above the relegation places.

However, they too have strengthened by bringing in Gerard Deulofeu on loan from Barcelona, Didier Ndong and Dodi Lukebakio.

“We now have three new players in positions where we needed to improve,” Gracia said. “I am confident they will give us good results with good performances and good games.”

AFP