Football

Conte relieved to have striker options

Conte says WBA win, strikers' return vital to the Blues in crucial weeks ahead

Antonio Conte is relieved to have options again up front in Olivier Giroud and fit-again Alvaro Morata ahead of what the Italian says is a "massive" few weeks for Chelsea.

Giroud's touch set up Eden Hazard for the opening goal as Chelsea rolled over rock-bottom West Bromwich Albion 3-0 yesterday morning (Singapore time).

It moved them back into the English Premier League top four and eased the mounting pressure on Conte following shock losses to Bournemouth and Watford in their previous two outings.

Conte had been unable to name a recognised striker in either of those matches with Morata sidelined for nearly a month due to a back injury and Giroud having joined from Arsenal only on Jan 31.

"We must be pleased with Giroud's performance," Conte said of the Frenchman, who was replaced by Morata on the hour after a battling display in which he had his head bandaged and took a blow to the ankle.

"It was his first start for Chelsea. For sure he needs to improve to go into our way of football, but to have a point of reference like Olivier is very important.

"We must be pleased because, in the same night, Morata made his return.

"He played very well in the last 30 minutes with great personality, with great spirit."

Conte confirmed that Giroud will be fit for Hull City's visit to Stamford Bridge on Saturday in the FA Cup fifth round before three blockbuster clashes that will go a long way towards deciding the outcome of their season.

The Blues host Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Feb 20 before back-to-back EPL visits to Manchester United and runaway league leaders Manchester City.

"Today was very important to get three points because only after a win you can consider a game as easy," said Conte.

"We want to beat Hull to advance to the next round, then prepare for Barcelona and then United and City. Three massive games for us."

Chelsea's recent slump and Conte's outspoken comments over his lack of input to the club's recruitment strategy had seen the odds slashed on him becoming the latest coach to be fired by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

But the Chelsea fans showed they were still fully behind Conte by chanting his name continuously throughout the second half.

"To feel this atmosphere around me is very important," said Conte.

"It's very important to feel the fans appreciating my work here at Chelsea.

"The players and I, we are trying to do our best to give them the best satisfaction.

"Sometimes we are able to do this, sometimes we are not, but the will is always present."

A strike from Victor Moses and Hazard's brilliant second of the game rounded off another costly night for West Brom, who are seven points adrift of safety at the bottom of the table and lost Daniel Sturridge to a hamstring injury.

"He was distraught really because his personality and the way he has worked at our place have been of the highest order," manager Alan Pardew said of the on-loan Liverpool striker, whose career has been dogged by injuries.

"He's devastated because he wants this period to be a success not just for him but also for West Brom." - AFP

Football