Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte / AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRK /
Antonio Conte will not permit any complacency as Chelsea attempt to take their next step towards the Premier League title at Stoke on Saturday.
Conte confirmed he has his sights firmly set on a league and FA Cup double when he abandoned his policy of rotating his team and fielded a full-strength side in Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United.
The 1-0 victory over Jose Mourinho’s side set up a semi-final meeting with Tottenham, but that will be put to one side as Conte’s side bid to open a 13-point gap at the head of the Premier League table, 24 hours before nearest challengers Tottenham and Manchester City are in action.
With just 11 remaining and Chelsea showing no signs of faltering, the championship already seems assured.
Blues boss Conte, though, has already spoken of the painful experience of conceding an eight-point lead in Serie A while a player with Juventus and is determined there will be no let up at Stamford Bridge.
And this week a succession of Chelsea players confirmed that a combination of hard work and the Italian’s desire to maintain standards will continue to drive the club’s progress.
Centre-back David Luiz told the club’s official website that life was “very hard” under Conte and said: “He’s doing a great job but didn’t finish yet and tells us we have to keep focus.”
And Gary Cahill echoed the view of his defensive partner.
“The way we work now is intense. We do a lot of physical training, a lot of tactical training,” said the England international.
The win against United was built on another outstanding individual display by N’Golo Kante, who appears to be in a head to head battle with team-mate Eden Hazard for the player of the year awards.
– Underrated –
The France midfielder had already drawn praise for his industry, but his second goal of the season showcased Kante’s all-round game and Cesc Fabregas believes his team-mate remains underrated.
“Now N’Golo is becoming famous for chasing around and making tackles that recover the ball and end up in goals, but he does other things very well,” Fabregas said.
“But because this is now his reputation, people just look into this and they don’t look to see if he does something else.”
Victor Moses is Conte’s only major injury worry, with the wing-back unlikely to make the trip because of a calf problem.
A point for Stoke at Manchester City last weekend moved them within four points of eighth-placed West Bromwich Albion.
Overhauling their midlands rivals remains the primary target for Stoke, especially considering the bad blood between the clubs and managers over the transfer of Saido Berahino.
Stoke players and manager Mark Hughes accused West Brom of leaking news of Berahino’s failed test for a recreational drug before his move from The Hawthorns to the Potteries.
Now, ahead of Hughes’ reunion with one of his former clubs, defender Bruno Martins Indi says his side are still targeting eighth.
“At Man City it was a good performance,” said the Dutchman, who confirmed this week he is in advanced talks about turning his season-long loan from Porto into a permanent move.
“Maybe we sometimes had the situation where we were lucky and they didn’t score the chances, but we were always dangerous on the counter-attack as well.
“The season is not done yet and a lot depends on how it is ending, but I have had a good season so far.
“We’ve had a lot of improvements after difficulties with injuries and with mistakes, but I hope we could finish eighth.”