Football: Conte backs Morata to finish Chelsea season with a bang

Morata eyes the ball in a match against Leicester City.
Morata eyes the ball in a match against Leicester City.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has backed striker Alvaro Morata to play an important role in the final stretch of the Premier League season and boost his chances of making Spain's squad for the World Cup this year.

Morata made a brisk start after signing from Real Madrid in the close season but has gone off the boil in recent weeks. He scored the last of his 10 league goals in this campaign in December as Chelsea beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0.

The 25-year-old was left out of Julen Lopetegui's Spain squad for last week's international friendlies against Germany and Argentina but Conte said Morata had used the time during his enforced break to raise the level of his game.

"He has been working very well, and he needed to work hard. Now he is really fit and is ready to have an important end to the season for Chelsea," Conte told reporters on Thursday (March 29).

A win for fifth-placed Chelsea in Sunday's London derby will take them to 59 points, two points behind Tottenham in fourth.

The defending champions are looking to overtake Mauricio Pochettino's side and seal a top-four finish that will ensure Champions League action next season.

Chelsea are also in the semi-finals of the FA Cup where they take on Southampton and Conte is aware of the need to ensure a strong finish to a difficult season.

"These are our targets. Sunday is an important game because if we win we go very close - otherwise we continue to stay not so close and with seven games to go it will be difficult to take a place in the Champions League."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois could miss the game after picking up a hamstring injury on international duty with Belgium while defender David Luiz is still battling a knee injury.