Chelsea man­ager ready to toast glo­ri­ous season

New Straits Times - - Sport -

AN­TO­NIO Conte has al­ready sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions in his first year as Chelsea man­ager and a vic­tory in to­mor­row’s FA Cup fi­nal against Ar­se­nal would com­plete ar­guably the great­est season in the club’s his­tory.

A sec­ond Dou­ble, fol­low­ing the one com­pleted by Conte’s fel­low Ital­ian Carlo Ancelotti in 2010, was not even on the radar last Au­gust when all the talk was of an ex­pected bat­tle for supremacy be­tween Pep Guardi­ola’s Manch­ester City and Jose Mour­inho’s Manch­ester United.

Yet Conte’s side rewrote the script and swept to the Pre­mier League ti­tle by seven points from Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur and are the favourites to round off a re­mark­able cam­paign by beat­ing the Gun­ners at Wem­b­ley.

Ancelotti’s pow­erhouse side, fea­tur­ing the likes of John Terry, Di­dier Drogba, Ash­ley Cole, Michael Bal­lack and Frank Lam­pard, had been favourites for the ti­tle and en­joyed a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward run to the Cup fi­nal where they beat a Portsmouth side who were al­ready rel­e­gated.

Conte’s side, largely un­changed from the one that fin­ished in a woe­ful 10th place in the Pre­mier League last season, beat Manch­ester United in the quar­ter-fi­nals and ti­tle-ri­vals Tot­ten­ham in the semis, and now face the com­pe­ti­tion’s most suc­cess­ful club in the show­piece fi­nal.

Chelsea skip­per John Terry, who will leave the club at the end of the season af­ter 22 years, said that any­thing other than a win would tar­nish their achieve­ments.

“You work all season long to be where you want to be and lift that tro­phy so the lads are fully fo­cused,” five-time Cup win­ner Terry, who is likely to be on the bench to­mor­row, told a news con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day.

“I’ve been on the re­ceiv­ing end of los­ing Cup fi­nals and it’s not a nice feel­ing on the last day of the season.”

While Chelsea are one win away from the Dou­ble, Ar­se­nal are des­per­ately try­ing to end the season on a high af­ter fin­ish­ing fifth in the Pre­mier League — their low­est fin­ish since Arsene Wenger ar­rived in north London in 1996.

Ar­se­nal have won the com­pe­ti­tion twice in the last three sea­sons but on both oc­ca­sions they had also sealed Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fi­ca­tion af­ter a top­four fin­ish.

This time lift­ing the tro­phy would be a “con­so­la­tion” in what could still turn out to be Wenger’s last in charge.

“Would it be a nice farewell? No, what I want is to win the next game. It’s not about me, it’s about us win­ning the tro­phy and giv­ing every­thing to achieve it,” Wenger, whose fu­ture has clouded much of Ar­se­nal’s season, said on Wed­nes­day.

While Chelsea fin­ished 18 points ahead of Ar­se­nal in the ta­ble de­spite suf­fer­ing a 3-0 de­feat at the Emi­rates in the early weeks of Conte’s ten­ure, a one­off fi­nal on the wide ex­panses of Wem­b­ley’s lush turf looks hard to call.

Siz­zling tem­per­a­tures are ex­pected to­mor­row which could po­ten­tially help Ar­se­nal’s cre­ative play­ers, although Wenger is faced with a shortage of de­fend­ers with Lau­rent Ko­scielny sus­pended and Gabriel ruled out in­jured.

Should Ar­se­nal wreck Chelsea’s Dou­ble bid it would be Wenger’s sev­enth FA Cup — match­ing the number of times Chelsea have lifted the tro­phy in their his­tory.

“I want to win the cup be­cause I think the team have re­dressed very well the sit­u­a­tion on the sport­ing side,” said Wenger, whose side won their last five league games. It would be a good crown­ing of what we have done in the last two months.” Reuters

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