Conte’s surprise at Chelsea lead
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.