Antonio Conte has confirmed that Chelsea are setting their sights on the Premier League title this season and that other clubs in the English top-flight should be prepared for a battle for the crown.
Chelsea are the last of the top sides to get their season underway. They host West Ham at Stamford Bridge tonight and the new head coach of the Blues will be hoping to see his team join Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, José Mourinho’s Manchester United and Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool with three points at the end of the London derby.
Conte’s statement came in the wake of former Chelsea manager Mourinho insisting that other managers were afraid to make bold pledges regarding their hopes for the season. Conte refused to be drawn into the mind games, however, suggesting that there are far worse things to be scared of in life. He said, “No. I must be honest I think that other things scare me, not to win or lose in football”.
Mourinho, who was sacked by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich in December last year after watching his side endure their worst start to a top-flight campaign since the 1960s, made suggestions over the weekend that Manchester United are the only team capable of winning the Premier League this season. Conte, on the other hand, believes that there are a number of teams in with a shout.
Speaking in his press conference before the match against the Hammers the former Italy national manager said, “I think that in this league it’s very tough, and I think that at the moment six, seven, eight teams can fight to win the title. And I’m sure Chelsea is a good team and we must work very hard to be in the six, seven teams that fight for the title”.
One of the players that Conte will be hoping returns to form this season is Diego Costa. The explosive forward was one of a number of players who under-performed last year in a campaign that saw the Blues finish tenth in the league without any silverware. After Mourinho, the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ was sacked Guus Hiddink was brought in on an interim basis to steady the ship. Results improved but the Dutchman couldn’t repeat his trick of winning the FA Cup with the Blues as he did when he took over from Luis Felipe Scolari in 2008-2009. It led to some Chelsea fans questioning the mentality of some players, including Costa.
The Spaniard has been linked with a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but Conte believes he’s the perfect forward to fit in with his gameplan. He said, “Diego is a forward, and he knows that in my idea of football, the forward must always be a point of reference for the team. I don’t like the forward to move around the pitch, I like the forward to stay there, because you are a forward, and your commitment is to score the goal, stay in the right position. You’re a forward, not a midfielder, not a defender”.
Conte has a reputation for being a hardline manager who doesn’t stand for any nonsense, causing many commentators to wonder whether he might want to get Costa off the books sooner rather than later. Yet the former Juventus player and manager has liked what he’s seen from the player. Conte said, “I try to improve all my players. I’m seeing a good attitude from Diego, to work, to improve in different situations. I think Diego can give a lot to this team, and I’m sure that he’ll have a good season”.
The new man in the Stamford Bridge dugout feels that Costa will play an important role in the club’s search for the title and feels that he shares his passion and desire to win. He said, “For me he’s an important player, he had a fantastic season two years ago when Chelsea won the title. Last season for a while he didn’t score, then he started to score, but I’m happy that Diego stays here to work with us. I like the spirit of Diego, because he always shows a great passion. Me, I’m the same, I have great passion for football. He doesn’t want to lose and I like this passion”.