Antonio Conte has claimed tonight's Carabao Cup semi-finalists, Chelsea and Arsenal, cannot compete with the two Manchester clubs this season, and are in a fight to be the best of the rest.
Manchester United this week signed Alexis Sanchez in a deal worth £180m. His shadow will hover over the Emirates as the club who could not afford to keep him take on the club who could not afford him, for a place in the Carabao Cup final.
Manchester City pulled out of the race to sign Sanchez, but Chelsea head coach Conte believes the Premier League leaders and United are leaving the chasing pack behind with their spending power.
"I think, for sure, in this moment there are two teams in this league who are 'top'. They stay there," said Conte. "The others have to fight. To fight for a place in the Champions League. It's not only here in England.
"These two big clubs can become seriously dangerous for other teams in the world. These two teams are very strong already and want to invest. Alexis Sanchez, only one or two clubs can pay this type of salary.
"We never were in this race [for Sanchez]. Ever. Especially because, I repeat, one of the reasons was this amount of salary."
Asked which clubs around the world could pay the kind of money United have invested in Sanchez, Conte added: "I don't know, but, for sure, United. They have paid it. But I don't know the other teams."
Conte described last season's Premier League title success as "a little miracle" and dismissed the notion that Chelsea needed to win the Carabao Cup or another trophy to make his second campaign a good one.
"For me, this is already a good season because we are doing 120 per cent.
"I'm doing a fantastic job, the same my players," said Conte.
"It's not important if you reach the final or win a trophy or win the league. The most important thing is to see if the coach and players are working hard and very well. This, for me, is a successful season. Last season, I think we did a fantastic job and did a little miracle."
Chelsea broke their transfer record to sign Alvaro Morata, who is out of tonight's match with a back injury, but Conte said: "Last season, we won the league and reached the FA Cup final, and we finished with a profit of £50 million in the transfer market. This had never happened before.
"For this reason, the situation changed. When the situation changes, you have to fight to try to give all of yourself for Chelsea. Now, for sure, United and City stay there. We have to try to build something important to create a basis and then make success with our work. Not with money, with work. I trust in my work and I think that, if I stay here, for this reason, it'll be because the club trusts in my work and not only the money.
"You can do two types of football: only with money and you pay a lot of money and take the best players; the other way is to try and put a bit of money in and then hard work. We are in the middle."
Having signed Ross Barkley for £15 million, Chelsea have been negotiating with Roma over a double deal for left-back Emerson Palmieri and forward Edin Dzeko worth around £44 million.
They would have to break their own transfer policy over fees and wages for players aged 30 and over to sign 31-year-old Dzeko, and Conte, who confirmed that Michy Batshuayi would leave on loan if a striker was signed, admitted the club were no longer in the market for the top players.
"If you want the best, you have to spend a lot of money," said Conte.
"Otherwise, you have to go in the middle and spend £20 million-£30 million. If you want to reach the best targets, you must be prepared to spend a lot of money.
"This is the market. if you want to buy Neymar, you must be ready to give him £25 million. If you want to buy Messi, Ronaldo, now Sanchez the same, you must be ready to pay his salary.
"If you have money you can spend it and have the best players. Otherwise, you find other ways to fight." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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