Football

Conte urges Chelsea to go for the kill

Blues can secure EPL crown on Saturday if they win their next two games

CHELSEA MIDDLESBROUGH

Antonio Conte is on the verge of winning the English Premier League in his first season at Chelsea and the uncompromising Italian has challenged his players to go for the kill.

With second-placed Tottenham's 1-0 defeat by West Ham on Saturday morning (Singapore time), Conte's side, who host Middlesbrough tomorrow morning, know that they need just six points from their last four games to be crowned champions.

A title race that looked set to go down to the wire now seems certain to be a lengthy coronation party for Chelsea, who can clinch the trophy with a victory at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday morning (Singapore time), provided they defeat Middlesbrough first.

That would cap an incredible revival of Chelsea's fortunes under Conte's astute leadership.

When the former Italy and Juventus boss arrived at Stamford Bridge last July, he faced the tricky task of uniting a squad split into feuding cliques following Jose Mourinho's sacking the previous season.

Against that acrimonious backdrop, it was something of a gamble by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to hire a manager with no EPL experience.

At first, Conte seemed unsure how he would tame a team of prickly and fragile egos and the alarm bells were ringing when Abramovich felt compelled to visit their training ground following successive defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal in September.

Those chastening results have been heralded as the turning point in Chelsea's season as Conte switched to his preferred three-man defensive system, which sparked a run of 13 conssecutive league wins.

But, just as significantly, Conte persuaded his players to buy into his belief that the foundations for success are laid on the training pitch, where focus on tactical discipline, patterns of play and supreme physical fitness have all been rewarded.

He said: "I like to underline a concept, I don't have to keep the players happy. We must win.

"You speak about 'happy'. I speak about 'to win' and to work very hard.

"Players are not always happy to work very hard. But I think my target is to put in the mind of my players a winning mentality."

However, the 47-year-old believes the competitive nature of the English top flight impacts on continental competition and the England team.

Conte said: "This league is very difficult. It's strong. It's totally different to the Italian or Spanish leagues.

STRETCHED

"Every single game you must fight a lot and, I think, also for this reason it's not easy to arrive at the end of a European competition.

"Also for the national team, it's very difficult to try and do very well in the World Cup or the Euros because you arrive at the end of the season and the players are tired."

In the meantime, he is not taking things for granted. He has urged his players to focus on beating Middlesbrough rather than look ahead to a potential title celebration later in the week.

"For me it's not the first time to win the title. I have a good experience to face this type of situation," said the former Juventus coach.

"But it won't be easy. We must play a great game against Middlesbrough. They are struggling to avoid relegation. We must be ready to fight, ready to find the right way to take three points." 
- WIRE SERVICES

eplCHELSEA (EPL)Antonio Conte