Conte to stay, get cash to boost Blues

All smiles as Chelsea manager Antonio Conte celebrates winning the Premier League title in his first season with the Blues. He is already planning for new signings to boost the Chelsea squad next season, when they will be playing in the Champions Lea
All smiles as Chelsea manager Antonio Conte celebrates winning the Premier League title in his first season with the Blues. He is already planning for new signings to boost the Chelsea squad next season, when they will be playing in the Champions League.PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite Inter Milan's interest, Chelsea boss is already targeting key signings for next season

LONDON • Antonio Conte has added to the most feel-good of weekends for Chelsea by suggesting he will remain at the club next season.

Asked if he could say "100 per cent" that he will stay with the new Premier League champions, the Italian replied: "Yeah, yeah."

He then began talking of his intention to improve the champions further: "We have to improve in the next season and to find the right solution to improve."

He warned the Chelsea hierarchy that they must resist Real Madrid's pursuit of playmaker Eden Hazard if the Blues are to mount a strong challenge in next season's Champions League.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, another target for Real, pledged his future to Chelsea too.

Conte has been linked with a move to Inter Milan but believes he can do even better with Chelsea, who are just one win away from equalling the Premier League record for most wins in a campaign. They play Watford at home today.

To consolidate his position at Chelsea, Conte is expected to seek the appointment of another Italian to his coaching staff when Steve Holland leaves the club at the end of the season to become Gareth Southgate's No. 2 with England on a permanent basis.

Gabriele Oriali, a former player and sporting director who worked closely with Conte in the Italian national set-up, is a candidate for the role, though Inter have expressed an interest in hiring him.

Conte will also seek greater input on recruitment, despite the close relationship he already enjoys with the sporting director, Michael Emenalo, and the influential board member Marina Granovskaia.

Chelsea are seeking to strengthen their spine in deals which could cost in excess of £200 million (S$359 million), in a throwback to the lavish spending of Roman Abramovich's early days in charge.

Everton forward Romelu Lukaku, who is keen to return to Chelsea, and Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez are targets, although persuading the Gunners to part with the Chilean striker may prove problematic.

There is strong interest in French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko, a key member of the Monaco team that reached the Champions League semi-finals, as well as the Southampton central defender Virgil van Dijk.

Conte is also targeting two high- calibre players in every position, a strategy that may also see the addition of two wing-backs to challenge Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses.

For this, he would ideally seek to add either Juventus' Alex Sandro or David Alaba of Bayern Munich.

Conte will likely give Michy Batshuayi , the scorer of the goal that won Chelsea the title at West Bromwich Albion on Friday, his first league start for Chelsea today.

The Belgium striker has played as a substitute since arriving from Marseille last year, but could be given a run-out if, as expected, Conte elects to shuffle his pack.

Youth-team graduates Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathaniel Chalobah will also hope to make their first league starts of the campaign in Chelsea's final two fixtures - the other one against Sunderland on Sunday.

Walter Mazzarri's Watford, who lie 15th, have lost their last six away games without scoring.

Forward Stefano Okaka knows his side will be up against it at a partying Stamford Bridge, but he is hopeful his side can exploit any groggy heads in the Chelsea ranks.

"It'll be a difficult game against Chelsea," he said. "But we will go there and fight."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2017, with the headline 'Conte to stay, get cash to boost Blues'. Print Edition | Subscribe