Conte rel­ishes Chelsea’s ti­tle de­fence chal­lenge

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

LON­DON: The Premier League breaks with tra­di­tion this weekend in kick­ing off the marathon race for the ti­tle.

Ar­se­nal host Le­ices­ter City tonight, mark­ing the first time in league his­tory the sea­son’s first match won’t be played on a Satur­day.

Nine games follow over the next two days, in­clud­ing the start of Chelsea’s ti­tle de­fence and the Premier League de­buts of Brighton and Hove Al­bion and Hud­der­s­field Town.

“It’s been a long pre­sea­son and it’s al­ways tough,” Le­ices­ter cap­tain Wes Mor­gan said.

“You’ve got the sea­son ahead to look for­ward to and ev­ery­one’s rar­ing to go. We’ve got our first game (tonight) and we can’t wait to get started.”

Ar­se­nal could be with­out sev­eral key play­ers with Alexis Sanchez ruled out by in­jury and Lau­rent Ko­scielny sus­pended. In ad­di­tion, Me­sut Oezil, Aaron Ram­sey and Per Merte­sacker are ques­tion­able as Arsene Wenger be­gins his 22nd sea­son as man­ager.

“I can­not go into the game with too many un­cer­tain­ties,” Wenger said. “I think we have a good level of phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tion. All our play­ers got a de­cent num­ber of min­utes of good com­pe­ti­tion, so over­all the prepa­ra­tion of the squad looks good.”

Chelsea host Burn­ley to­mor­row look­ing to avoid the dis­as­ter of their last ti­tle de­fence.

The Blues made a poor start to the 2015/16 cam­paign and never re­cov­ered, fin­ish­ing a dis­tant 10th as man­ager Jose Mour­inho was fired mid­sea­son.

That led to the hiring of An­to­nio Conte, who guided them back to the top of the moun­tain last sea­son and ex­pects a battle this time around.

“It won’t be easy,” the Ital­ian said. “In this league there are at least six teams that are very strong and ready to fight for the ti­tle and a place in the Cham­pi­ons League or Europa League. For us, it’s a great chal­lenge to try and re­tain the ti­tle.”

The decades­long quest for the Premier League ends to­mor­row for Hud­der­s­field and Brighton.

The Ter­ri­ers travel to Crys­tal Palace, hav­ing last ap­peared in the top-flight first di­vi­sion back in 1972. “We know that we are not the favourite in the Premier League to win the ti­tle,” Hud­der­s­field man­ager David Wag­ner said.

“But we are am­bi­tious enough to say we will work our socks off, we will try every­thing and make sure it’s as un­com­fort­able as pos­si­ble for op­po­nents.”

Brighton’s first topflight match in 34 years sees them host ti­tle favourites Manch­ester City.

“It’s go­ing to be a very tough open­ing game, but we have to play them at some stage,” the Seag­ulls boss Chris Houghton said.

“It’s a won­der­ful game for the club and sup­port­ers, as a first game in the Premier League, but we have to make sure it’s a good day for the team as well.” – dpa

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