Football: Rugby influence for Blues

Eden Hazard (left) and Gary Cahill warming up before Chelsea's 2-0 win over Hull last month. The league leaders are looking hard to shake off.
Eden Hazard (left) and Gary Cahill warming up before Chelsea's 2-0 win over Hull last month. The league leaders are looking hard to shake off.PHOTO: REUTERS

Conte hopes chat with England coach Jones will help him bolster team's quest

LONDON • Chelsea manager Antonio Conte will hope to take inspiration from England rugby union coach Eddie Jones when his Premier League leaders face Swansea City at Stamford Bridge today.

The Italian demonstrated his desire to improve his team's performance when he shared ideas with Jones, who has a perfect record of 15 wins from 15 games since taking charge of England, with his latest success a 21-16 defeat of Wales.

"Eddie is a winner and he is transferring that mentality on to the team," Conte said ahead of facing Chelsea's own Welsh opponents.

"It is important for me to compare my work and experience with another sport to gain inspiration and tactical ideas for the future."

The Blues, into the FA Cup quarter-finals with last weekend's defeat of Wolverhampton, return to Premier League action aiming to consolidate their eight-point lead at the top of the table.

With just 13 top-flight games remaining - and having suffered just one league defeat since September - the chances of Conte's side allowing their rivals to close the gap appear remote, despite drawing two of their last three league games.

Conte's success at Stamford Bridge has been in reviving a team who finished 10th last season and he insists that the foundation for his side's improvement lay in the Blues' back-to-back league losses to Liverpool and Arsenal in September.

"It's important not to forget totally the two defeats because when you lose the game you can learn a lot. And I think we learnt a lot," the Italian said.

"To win, not only one game, not one battle but the whole war it is important to create a good spirit.

"To create a team, and to try to exploit every single player, the talent of every single player in the best way, you must find right solution, the right system, to create a family spirit, a good spirit."

Conte will recall a number of senior players who missed the trip to Wolves, including defenders David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Marcos Alonso.

Today's game marks the return of Paul Clement to Stamford Bridge, the Swansea manager having worked as Carlo Ancelotti's assistant at the west London club.

Clement's recent arrival has triggered an upturn in form that has moved the Welsh side four points clear of the relegation zone.

But Clement has also credited the contribution of his back-room staff with helping turn things around at the Liberty Stadium, including Claude Makelele.

Now Clement wants to keep the former Chelsea midfielder at Swansea beyond the end of the season.

"If we keep moving in the direction we're going there would be no reason to change anything," he said. "He (Makelele) does not have so much coaching experience, but he has a good feel for players, one-to-one, he has great knowledge of the game having played at such a high level."

Swansea will be without Ki Sung Yueng (knee), Nathan Dyer (Achilles) and Jefferson Montero (hamstring).

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Rugby influence for Blues'. Print Edition | Subscribe