Football

Conte wary of struggling Foxes

Chelsea boss thinks Leicester are still a 'good team with good players'

LEICESTER CITY CHELSEA

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was named Premier League Manager of the Month for December yesterday, becoming the first to win the award three months in a row.

Under the 47-year-old Italian, the Blues won all six league games last month to equal the Premier League record of 13 consecutive wins in a single campaign.

Their record run was halted in a 2-0 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur last week.

Chelsea's impressive form under Conte has catapulted the London club to the top of the table with 49 points from 20 games, five more than second-placed Liverpool.

"This award shows we're working very well," said Conte, who fended off competition from Liverpool counterpart Juergen Klopp, Manchester United's Jose Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur's Mauricio Pochettino.

"December was a great month for us.

"It was important for the table and for our confidence."

However, the monthly award will count for nothing for Conte if Chelsea cannot return to winning ways by beating Leicester tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

The visit to the King Power Stadium for a meeting with last season's champions marks Chelsea's first league action since the loss to Spurs.

"I consider them a good team with good players, good talent, good technique, strong players. A good mix," said the Italian.

Conte had reason to be satisfied with the reaction of his players when they eased past third-tier Peterborough United 4-1 to secure a place in the FA Cup fourth round last Sunday.

But, having seen his side give their rivals hope that the gap can be closed, the Italian taskmaster will be well aware of the impact of dropping more points.

Spanish forward Pedro Rodriguez endured a difficult first season at Chelsea but, this campaign, he has flourished and he believes the Spurs result is behind them.

"Against Spurs, it was a different game," said Pedro.

"We lost but, no problem, we just continue taking it game by game.

"Next we face Leicester, a very difficult team, but we will prepare all week and go for the win."

Conte made nine changes to his side for the Peterborough game, keeping Diego Costa - scorer of 14 goals in 19 games - and Eden Hazard on the bench as unused substitutes while N'Golo Kante will face his former club having played just 17 minutes against Peterborough.

The Frenchman left Leicester in the summer, having played a key role in their fairy-tale title win.

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He is set to start against his former teammates this weekend and Ranieri wants the Leicester fans to give the midfield international a good reception.

Ranieri, named World Coach of the Year on Monday, could dearly do with Kante as his side are struggling just six points above the relegation places.

"Of course, I tried to keep him with all my strength," said Ranieri. "I am not surprised how well he has done at Chelsea.

"He's a very good player. He was our battery. With N'Golo, we played with 12 players."

Meanwhile, Leicester will let Jeff Schlupp leave this month with Crystal Palace leading the chase.

The 24-year-old will move if the Eagles meet the Foxes' asking price, which Press Association Sport understands to be close to £12 million (S$21m). - WIRE SERVICES

eplCHELSEA (EPL)Antonio Conte