Conte re­jigs Chelsea line-up af­ter Kante blow

The Borneo Post (Sabah) - - SPORT -

LON­DON: An­to­nio Conte must work out how to over­come the loss of mid­fielder N'Golo Kante when Chelsea at­tempt to get their Pre­mier League ti­tle de­fence back on track at Crys­tal Palace.

Conte's side signed off for the in­ter­na­tional break with a dis­ap­point­ing home de­feat by Manch­ester City that left the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons in fourth place, six points adrift of Pep Guardi­ola's Pre­mier League lead­ers.

And the Blues suf­fered an­other blow last week when Kante picked up a ham­string in­jury while on duty with France.

The mid­fielder limped out of the 1-0 vic­tory against Bul­garia, and af­ter re­turn­ing to Stam­ford Bridge to be ex­am­ined by club doc­tors, is now ex­pected to be out for the rest of the month.

Kante, 26, has been an ev­er­p­re­sent dur­ing the league cam­paign so far.

While Conte will be con­fi­dent his side can beat bot­tom club Palace, the for­mer Le­ices­ter City man's ab­sence will be felt dur­ing the com­ing weeks when Chelsea will ex­pect to make progress in the league and in back-to­back Cham­pi­ons League group meet­ings with Roma.

Conte is also likely to be with­out Al­varo Mo­rata, who is suf­fer­ing from a ham­string prob­lem picked up in the City de­feat.

The for­ward's in­jury is not as bad as first feared but he is not ex­pected to be risked at Sel­hurst Park on Saturday.

The loss of two in­flu­en­tial fig­ures will place pres­sure on Conte's squad.

The man­ager was be­lieved to have been left frus­trated by his club's fail­ure to bring in more play­ers dur­ing the trans­fer win­dow.

And his de­ci­sion to ini­tially re­place Mo­rata with Wil­lian, a mid­fielder, against City raised doubts about the man­ager's faith in Michy Bat­shuayi, his only other recog­nised se­nior striker.

Bat­shuayi, who scored a mem­o­rable win­ning goal in the Cham­pi­ons League visit to Atletico Madrid, should start against Palace but Conte has also spo­ken of the pos­si­bil­ity of em­ploy­ing Eden Haz­ard as a false cen­tre-for­ward.

Haz­ard made his first league start of the sea­son against City and the Bel­gium for­ward warned it will take time for him to over­come the lin­ger­ing ef­fects of a long-term an­kle in­jury.

"I missed foot­ball for three months and it's not easy to come back af­ter a big in­jury but I did," Haz­ard said.

"I worked out dur­ing the sum­mer. I just want to play foot­ball. I will miss some games, I will play bad for some games. I just want to play foot­ball and try to bring the best of me."

Palace man­ager Roy Hodg­son faces far more sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems as his side at­tempt to halt a dis­mal start to the sea­son that has left them with­out a point or a goal from the open­ing seven matches.

Al­ready Palace's prospects look bleak, although they could be boosted by the re­turn of winger Wil­fried Zaha against Chelsea.

Zaha has been out with a knee in­jury and his ab­sence has con­trib­uted to his team's woe­ful lack of creativ­ity up front.

Hodg­son, though, is con­vinced he can see signs of im­prove­ment.

"The mes­sages be­ing put across are be­ing grasped by the play­ers. We now have Chelsea and it doesn't get any eas­ier," said the for­mer Eng­land man­ager af­ter the de­feat by Manch­ester United be­fore the in­ter­na­tional break.

"The break will be good to get more work done. I hope my en­joy­ment and pas­sion for the game will spread over to the play­ers.

"At the mo­ment we're like a boxer knocked down by su­pe­rior fight­ers. We try to stay in there and not sur­ren­der." - AFP

— AFP photo

France's de­fender N'golo Kante (L) fights for the ball with Bul­garia's mid­fielder Ge­orgi Kostadi­nov dur­ing the FIFA World Cup 2018 qual­i­fy­ing foot­ball match be­tween Bul­garia and France at The Vasil Levski Sta­dium in Sofia on Oc­to­ber 7, 2017.

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