Antonio Conte responds to rumours of his 'imminent' sacking
Published 14/10/2016 | 15:50
Antonio Conte has laughed off speculation he was about to be sacked as Chelsea head coach.
Within minutes of Chelsea announcing a kit deal with Nike that is set to net the club £900million over the next 15 years, the focus on Thursday turned to Italian Conte.
A sustained and heavy mid-afternoon gamble was reported on the former Italy and Juventus boss becoming the next Premier League manager to be ousted from his position.
He went from being an outsider in the market to an odds-on favourite with some bookmakers, while others refused to take any more money.
"I take this with a smile," Conte said.
"I'm trying to find who put the money (on)."
The club owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich recruited Conte on a three-year contract that began in July, following his Italy team's Euro 2016 quarter-final penalty shoot-out loss to Germany.
Chelsea have experienced a mixed start to Conte's first season in English football, suffering painful early defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal.
With 13 points from seven games they stand seventh in the table and five points behind leaders Manchester City.
Two managers axed by Abramovich visit Stamford Bridge in the next two games: Claudio Ranieri with champions Leicester on Saturday and Jose Mourinho with Manchester United on October 23.
"Two great challenges for us," Conte added.
"But in this moment I think we must think of ourselves and not of the other teams."
Chelsea have a full week to prepare for the United match as they are not involved in European competition.
Midfielder N'Golo Kante opted out of the Champions League with Leicester in moving to the Blues.
"He brought great will to fight and he's a humble man, a humble player. I like him," Conte added.
"I like these type of players that put the team before himself."
Chelsea won their most recent game, a 2-0 win at Hull, when Conte deployed a back three.
John Terry is available again following an ankle injury and could come into the starting XI.
Conte added: "I don't think it's important (whether we) play three or four at the back tomorrow. It's important to play and follow the principles that we're working (on).
"It was necessary to find a new solution because it's not right that a great team like Chelsea conceded so many goals in games."
Yet he dropped a hint that he will continue with a back three, with David Luiz and Gary Cahill likely to continue and Branislav Ivanovic expected to miss out.
"Now I have four central defenders and I have to take the decision for three," he added.
"One must go on the bench."
Brazil playmaker Willian is absent on compassionate leave following the death of his mother. Conte expressed his sadness for Willian.
Striker Diego Costa is one yellow card away from a suspension and a booking against Leicester would rule him out of the United clash.
Conte added: "Diego knows this situation. This situation was also before the Hull game and I think we must think to the present and not to look (ahead).
"Tomorrow he must fight in the same way, like in the previous games. I hope he pays attention and doesn't take another yellow card."
Striker Michy Batshuayi would be the likely replacement for Costa.
Conte added: "Michy is a young player, but with great potential. Also, he's ready to play from the start."