Man­ager Conte rev­els in Chelsea’s Christ­mas cheer

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

LON­DON: An­to­nio Conte’s first few months as Chelsea man­ager could hardly have gone any bet­ter as his side head into the hol­i­day pe­riod six points clear at the Premier League sum­mit.

The west Lon­don club face Bournemouth at Stam­ford Bridge to­day seek­ing a 12th suc­ces­sive league vic­tory, which would leave them two wins short of equalling Arse­nal’s all­time top-flight record.

Af­ter an in­con­sis­tent start, Conte has made his mark on the club and while he ac­cepts the ex­tent of Chelsea’s re­cent suc­cess has been un­ex­pected, he be­lieves 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 ta­ble 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 have won the Premier League ti­tle on the four oc­ca­sions they have pre­vi­ously led the ta­ble on Christ­mas Day.

And it is a mea­sure of the cur­rent op­ti­mistic mood at Stam­ford Bridge that Os­car’s re­ported £60 mil­lion ($73.7 mil­lion) de­par­ture to Shang­hai SIPG should cause lit­tle con­cern.

Chelsea will face Bournemouth with­out the sus­pended Diego Costa and N’Golo Kante, pre­sent­ing Conte with his first ma­jor se­lec­tion dilemma af­ter a pe­riod in which his team has largely picked it­self.

Conte must de­cide whether to hand Michy Bat­shuayi a first Premier League start fol­low­ing his £33 mil­lion move from Mar­seille in place of Costa. The loss of Kante, mean­while, will de­prive the team of their most con­sis­tent mid­fielder dur­ing the re­cent win­ing run.

“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.”

‘RUN­NING THROUGH BRICK WALLS’

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

“This gives us the pos­si­bil­ity to play some play­ers who, un­til now, haven’t played a lot. Or to find an­other so­lu­tion.”

Bournemouth’s im­pres­sive re­cent progress was brought to an abrupt halt in a 3-1 home de­feat by south-coast ri­vals Southamp­ton last week­end. “We’ve had time to re­flect on Sun­day’s de­feat as we al­ways do,” said man­ager Ed­die Howe. “We will try and come back a bet­ter team from it. We need to do bet­ter re­ally and it’s a good chal­lenge for us this week­end. “Kante and Costa will be miss­ing, but I saw Cesc Fabre­gas come on against Crys­tal Palace and he was ex­cel­lent, so it will be a very dif­fi­cult game re­gard­less of who plays.”

In last sea­son’s fix­ture, a late win­ner from Glenn Mur­ray se­cured an un­ex­pected vic­tory for Howe’s side, but skip­per Si­mon Fran­cis says they will face a very dif­fer­ent Chelsea this time around. “In terms of per­son­nel, they haven’t changed their play­ers too much, but they’ve changed their for­ma­tion and seem to have a man­ager that they’re run­ning through brick walls for,” he said. “We were in need of a big away win last sea­son and that came at Stam­ford Bridge. “That did all sorts for our sea­son and we had some huge ones af­ter that as well. We’ll be go­ing there to win the game. We need some points away from home.”

Winger Ju­nior Stanis­las and mid­fielder An­drew Sur­man could both be in con­tention for the trip to the cap­i­tal.

Stanis­las has not played since the be­gin­ning of the month be­cause of an­kle trou­ble, while Sur­man has been side­lined since Oc­to­ber due to a ham­string in­jury. — AFP

LON­DON: Chelsea’s man­ager An­to­nio Conte cel­e­brates with his play­ers af­ter they won the English Premier League soc­cer match be­tween Crys­tal Palace and Chelsea at Sel­hurst Park sta­dium in Lon­don. —AP

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