Monday 11 December 2017

Combative Premier League hindering English clubs in Europe, claims Conte

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte takes great pride in the success of Italian managers in England. Photo: PA Wire
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte takes great pride in the success of Italian managers in England. Photo: PA Wire

Matt McGeehan

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte reckons the strength of the Premier League makes it difficult to mount a combined domestic and European challenge.

The Italian is bidding to take Chelsea to a league and FA Cup double in his first season at Stamford Bridge, but has not had European football to contend with.

Chelsea, who play Middlesbrough tomorrow, need six points to win the title and could secure it before second-placed Tottenham next play after Spurs' 1-0 loss at West Ham on Friday night.

Former Italy and Juventus boss Conte 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.

"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.

"Every game is very tough, every game you must put all yourself in the game.

"If you think you're playing for a team who is playing at the medium level, you're actually preparing for a defeat."

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho is Chelsea's most successful manager, with three Premier League titles. But the self-proclaimed 'Special One' has suggested he will field weakened teams in the Premier League run-in to prioritise the Europa League, which Mourinho believes is United's best avenue into the Champions League.

That would mean Mourinho making changes to play at Tottenham, Chelsea's rivals for the title.

Conte has no qualms about that - and Chelsea could be champions by then anyway, if they beat Boro and West Brom next Friday - but wants the fixtures to be addressed next season, when he hopes to take the Blues to the latter stages of the Champions League. Conte added: "Every single coach, every club, must take the best decision for themselves: not for Tottenham or for Chelsea or another team.

"When you arrive at the end of the season, we must find the right solution for all the teams when you prepare the fixtures, and to have also in consideration if someone is playing in the Champions League or the Europa League. Otherwise you risk managers putting their second team in the FA Cup."

Conte, whose Chelsea side complete their season against Arsenal in the May 27 FA Cup final, is seeking to emulate Carlo Ancelotti by winning the double.

Ancelotti, whose success came in 2009-'10, is one of four Italian managers to win the Premier League in recent seasons, alongside Roberto Mancini at Manchester City (2011-'12) and Claudio Ranieri, who led Leicester to a surprise triumph last term.

Chelsea have a rich tradition of Italian bosses - Gianluca Vialli, Ancelotti and Roberto di Matteo won silverware for the club - and it is something not lost on Conte. He added: "I looked at the past and saw many Italian managers won the title in England."

He was particularly "proud" of Ranieri's win with Leicester.

He added: "Last season I supported a lot Claudio Ranieri to win the title. In Italy, we celebrated this win in a great way.

"I think Claudio deserved this for his career."

There is also satisfaction if Italian managers win the title elsewhere, for example Ancelotti with Bayern Munich in Germany.

Italian football has long been renowned for defensive resilience, but Chelsea endured an 11-game Premier League run without a clean sheet before last Sunday's 3-0 win at Everton.

"Now I hope this clean sheet has given us more confidence and allows us to continue in this way, against Middlesbrough and the other games," Conte added.

"I must be pleased with the goals because we are the team who have scored most in this league and that's great.

"Defensively we have to improve because we have the 10th best defence."

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