Blues can build on this season: Conte

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte took aim at his predecessor Jose Mourinho, saying the Blues won the Premier League title after he took over from the Portuguese in 2016.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte took aim at his predecessor Jose Mourinho, saying the Blues won the Premier League title after he took over from the Portuguese in 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Antonio Conte believes Chelsea are stronger now than when he arrived at the Premier League club almost two years ago, with the Italian manager insisting he has "created a base" through his stewardship.

The FA Cup finalists travel to Newcastle tomorrow with a full squad but retaining only faint hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Conte is expected to leave Stamford Bridge in the summer despite having a year left on his contract.

Yet, having inherited a Chelsea side that finished 10th after a turbulent season which had seen former manager Jose Mourinho sacked and Guus Hiddink working as an interim coach, he feels they are in a stronger position now than in 2016.

"For sure, we worked two years and worked very hard to try to build something, to create a base," said Conte, who will confront Mourinho's Manchester United at Wembley in the Cup final next Saturday.

The Cup represents both clubs' only chance of silverware this season, but Conte once again brushed aside mounting rumours that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich will dispense with his services at the end of the season.

"I'm the last person to judge the moment of the club," he insisted. "My task is to work, to do my job in the best possible way, and to work very hard with this team, with these players for the fans. Other people will judge our position.

"I've been living with this speculation since the start of this season... The time I start listening to the speculation about me is the moment I start to be worried."

Asked if it would be damaging for the Blues to miss out on a top-four finish, he said: "I don't know. You must know that there is this possibility, because you play in a strong league. For this reason, you have to know this and prepare in the right way. There are six top teams at the start of the season, ready to fight for a place in the Champions League. It can happen."

He also took aim at Mourinho, and refuted critics who have drawn a parallel between this underwhelming season and the Portuguese's final term at Chelsea.

"Don't forget two years ago, Chelsea ended the season 10th and not in the FA Cup final, not in the semi-finals of the (League) Cup, and they were eliminated in the last 16 against (Paris Saint-Germain) in the Champions League...

"But last season after a 10th place, we won the league. It was difficult. We worked very hard, but we won it. Now, probably, you can finish fifth and start with a bit of an advantage compared to when you finish 10th."

THE GUARDIAN

NEWCASTLE V CHELSEA Singtel TV Ch105 & StarHub Ch230, tomorrow, 10pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2018, with the headline 'Blues can build on this season: Conte'. Print Edition | Subscribe