Football

A fierce will to win for Chelsea, and no compromises

Conte reveals how he transforms Chelsea from 'an ugly duckling into a swan'

Chelsea finished 10th in their defence of the English Premiership title last season, but are now runaway leaders this term.

Antonio Conte knew it would be a tough task to rebuild the Blues, but he trusted in his "blind faith" and the turnaround has been amazing.

Chelsea lead the Premier League by nine points with 14 games to go following last Saturday's 3-1 win over Arsenal.

The Blues have won 16 of 18 Premier League games since successive losses to Liverpool and Arsenal in September prompted Conte to change to a 3-4-3 formation.

"If you compare this Chelsea with the team from last season, then it's normal that you'd end up this way: You can't turn an ugly duckling into a swan in an instant," Conte, who was installed as Jose Mourinho's permanent successor last July, told Sky Sports Italia.

"I'm not a coach who compromises and, with my blind faith in the work we're doing and in my ideas, I've been able to forge straight ahead without worrying about anyone else."

After being anointed champions by Manchester City's Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger of Arsenal, Conte urged caution.

But his relentless appetite for victory appears to be a warning for the rest of the EPL.

Chelsea appear to have a favourable run of fixtures in the near future, against Burnley, Swansea, West Ham, Watford, Stoke and Crystal Palace before a home match with City.

He said: "My experiences as a player taught me that you will win a lot and lose a lot too and that instilled in me a fierce will to win.

"Those who are out in front must not falter. It sends a message to those who are following, an increasingly loud message, that we must make the most of this period."

Conte will not identify a single rival to the title for "superstitious" reasons, after the Blues maintained their nine-point gap over second-placed Tottenham over the weekend.

"There isn't one team chasing us who to me is most worrying. I won't name one, to be superstitious," he said.

"There are still 14 matches. Are we talking about the trophy now? No. Anything can still happen. I am keeping tabs on everything, absolutely."

Midfielder N'Golo Kante won the title with Leicester last season and is on course to repeat the feat with Chelsea.

Conte believes the France midfielder can continue to improve to become one of the best midfielders in the world.

"Kante? An extraordinary player in terms of quantity and quality," the Italian said.

KANTE CAN IMPROVE

"He manages to cover a lot of the pitch, he's always ready and willing, and he's just a great player and a great signing for us.

"He has to improve his build-up play, but he's that kind of midfielder, one who recovers the ball then makes a sideways pass.

"He needs to learn how to play the ball forwards to play in our strikers and our wingers."

Conte also insisted that everything with Diego Costa is "perfect" after their spat last month.

The Spain striker was dropped from the game against Leicester on Jan 14 after a confrontation with Conte and his coaches on the training pitch.

Costa had become unsettled after an offer from a Chinese Super League club, but the 28-year-old subsequently returned in the following game and put in a Man-of-the-Match performance against Hull.

"Diego? I was clear with him, I spoke to him forcefully and he understood me. Now everything is perfect," said Conte.

- PA SPORT

eplCHELSEA (EPL)Antonio Conte