Conte’s sur­prise at Chelsea lead

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in London

An­to­nio Conte’s first few months as Chelsea man­ager could hardly have gone any bet­ter as his team heads into the Christ­mas pe­riod six points clear at the Premier League sum­mit.

The Blues host Bournemouth at Stam­ford Bridge to­day seek­ing a 12th con­sec­u­tive league vic­tory, which would leave them two wins short of equalling Ar­se­nal’s all-time top-flight record.

Af­ter an in­con­sis­tent start, Conte has made his mark on the west London club and, while he ac­cepts the ex­tent of Chelsea’s re­cent suc­cess has been un­ex­pected, he said it is fully mer­ited.

“If you ask me this be­fore, I must be hon­est, it was a bit dif­fi­cult to be­lieve we would be top of the stand­ings at Christ­mas,” said the Ital­ian.

“But I think we are work­ing very well and I’m very happy for the play­ers. The play­ers de­serve this.

“But in my ex­pe­ri­ence it’s im­por­tant to keep this po­si­tion. You can keep it only through hard work, to face ev­ery game with great con­cen­tra­tion and fo­cus and will to fight.”

The omens are good for Chelsea, who has won the league ti­tle on the four oc­ca­sions it pre­vi­ously topped the stand­ings on Christ­mas Day.

And it is a mea­sure of the cur­rent op­ti­mistic mood at Stam­ford Bridge that Brazil­ian play­maker Os­car’s re­ported $73.7 mil­lion de­par­ture to Shang­hai SIPG has caused lit­tle con­cern.

Chelsea will be with­out the sus­pended Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante against Bournemouth, pre­sent­ing Conte with his first ma­jor se­lec­tion dilemma fol­low­ing a pe­riod in which pick­ing his start­ing teams has been straight­for­ward and ob­vi­ous.

Conte must de­cide whether to give 23-year-old Michy Bat­shuayi a first Premier League start fol­low­ing his sum­mer ar­rival from Mar­seille in place of striker Costa.

The loss of Kante, mean­while, will de­prive the Blues of their most con­sis­tent mid­fielder dur­ing the re­cent win­ning streak.

“For sure, Diego is an im­por­tant player for us,” said Conte.

“But th­ese days we are work­ing to find the right so­lu­tion in the squad. I can have dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions to re­place him. I’m work­ing on this.”

“This is a good test for us be­cause we play this game with­out two play­ers who are very im­por­tant for our team,” Conte added.

“This gives us the pos­si­bil­ity to play some play­ers who, un­til now, haven’t played a lot, or to find an­other so­lu­tion.” Lam­pard wants to be back in blue

Frank Lam­pard said on Satur­day he would rel­ish a Chelsea re­turn and was keen to re­join the Premier League leader in some ca­pac­ity if he is not of­fered a con­tract as a player.

The for­mer Eng­land mid­fielder is Chelsea’s all-time lead­ing scorer and has kept his op­tions open af­ter leav­ing New York City FC fol­low­ing a two-year stay with the Ma­jor League Soc­cer club.

Ap­pear­ing along­side Blues cap­tain John Terry on Sky Sports, Lam­pard said: “My­self and John are Chelsea through and through, so what­ever hap­pens, in some ca­pac­ity, I will be at Chelsea.

“Whether it’s with my sea­son ticket, watch­ing them, I don’t know yet, I’ll have very close con­tact. Whether I’ll have the role (as a player), it’s not all in my hands so I can’t go any fur­ther on that.

“I’m very re­laxed about it, which is a nice place to be. If the right thing comes, I’ll take it. Ob­vi­ously, Chelsea, I’d love that, but it doesn’t work that way.”

The 38-year-old left Stam­ford Bridge in 2014 af­ter scor­ing 211 goals in a 13-year ca­reer with the club.

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