Conte insists big guns won't want to face Blues

LONDON • Antonio Conte believes Chelsea remain a side their more fancied Champions League rivals will be anxious to avoid in Monday's draw for the knockout phase despite surrendering leadership of Group C to Roma at the last hurdle.

The Premier League champions were held 1-1 by Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, with the 2014 and 2016 finalists and their former Chelsea forward, Diego Costa, condemned to life in the Europa League in the new year.

With Uefa rules preventing clubs from the same country meeting in the last 16, Chelsea will not face Manchester United, Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur.

That increases their chances of being drawn against the likes of Paris Saint-Germain - who beat them in the last two years - or LaLiga leaders Barcelona in the knockout phase. But Conte insisted his side will not fear the superpowers of Europe.

"When you go through to the next round in this competition, you must be prepared to face the best teams," said the Chelsea manager.

"So we must be ready. This is the best tournament. That's why you want to go through and try and be a protagonist in this tournament.

"At the same time, our opponents won't be happy to play against us, so we'll see what happens."

NO PROBLEM

When you go through to the next round in this competition, you must be prepared to face the best teams.

ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea manager, who does not fear the powerhouses of Europe in the round of 16.

Atletico had to win to have a chance of advancing, and although Saul Niguez's second-half header put the visitors ahead, Chelsea drew level through a Stefan Savic own goal.

In the end, Roma's 1-0 win against Qarabag in the other group match made the result irrelevant for Atletico, who previously exited the group stage only once - in 2009-10, when they went on to win the Europa League.

Still, the Spanish giants affected two London sides simultaneously, with Chelsea finishing second behind Roma owing to their inferior head-to-head record, and Arsenal likely to have to overcome Atletico if they want to lift the Europa League title.

Atletico have won the continent's second-string competition in two of their last four appearances, including 2012.

"It's part of football. It hurts but there are no excuses. The responsibility is ours," manager Diego Simeone said of their exit. "This can be a new challenge. Everything bad we can make into a positive."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2017, with the headline 'Conte insists big guns won't want to face Blues'. Print Edition | Subscribe