Conte admits Blues a work in progress, despite double aim

LONDON • Antonio Conte claimed on Sunday that winning the double for Chelsea this season would be a greater achievement than the club's previous Premier League and FA Cup success under Carlo Ancelotti.

The Italian is on course to emulate his compatriot's achievement from the 2009-2010 season, and become only the third manager to win the double in his first season in charge, along with Kenny Dalglish, who inspired Liverpool to win their first double as player-manager in 1985-86.

Conte emphasised his huge respect for Ancelotti, describing Ancelotti as the greatest Italian manager, but believes that his players are on the brink of a bigger achievement.

The 47-year-old inherited a squad in transition who finished 10th in the Premier League last season, and, though the club spent more than £120 million (S$214 million) in the summer on players including N'Golo Kante and David Luiz, he has not made as many changes as he would have liked, despite the January exits of Branislav Ivanovic and John Obi Mikel.

Conte's desire for an active summer in the transfer market is clear, with Romelu Lukaku, the Everton striker, and Alexis Sanchez, of Arsenal, among a series of ambitious targets.

"I think that now at Chelsea we're in a period of transition," he said. "In this season we have lost Ivanovic, Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

"I think that in the period with Carlo, Chelsea had a really strong squad. Now we're just building and we need time.

"If you asked me last season, after our tenth place, and this season you stay on top, and you reach the FA Cup final, but you didn't change a lot, I think it's great. We must continue to work and improve."

According to Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard, to win the Premier League title, his side need to win five of their remaining six games beginning with Southampton today.

The 26-year-old Belgian and his team-mates will have to refocus after the delight of beating main title rivals Tottenham 4-2 in their FA Cup semi-final on Saturday, perhaps at the same time landing a psychological blow.

However, having seen a commanding 10-point lead eroded to just four, Conte's players cannot afford a slip up at home to Southampton.

Tottenham, though, face a tough challenge tomorrow when they travel to Crystal Palace, who in recent weeks have seen off Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.

"This (FA Cup) win maybe gives us more confidence for the rest of the season," Hazard told the club website. "We have six games to play in the league, and we need to win five if Tottenham win all of theirs, so we will see."

Conte is unhappy that his side have not been given more time to prepare for today's game at Stamford Bridge. But, for the first time in over a month, his team have an opportunity to put pressure on Tottenham by playing before them.

Southampton pulled off a surprise 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge in October 2015, which was their first away win over Chelsea since January 2002.

But, lying ninth - four points behind and with two games in hand - their main aim would be to pip West Bromwich Albion to eighth place.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2017, with the headline 'Conte admits Blues a work in progress, despite double aim'. Print Edition | Subscribe