In Review

Chelsea's Antonio Conte takes a swipe at Guardiola and Mourinho

Blues manager says winning title after being outspent by Manchester City and United would be 'great achievement'

 

Chelsea will move a step closer to the Premier League title if they beat Southampton at Stamford Bridge tonight, with victory extending their lead over second-placed Spurs to seven points ahead of their visit to in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

 

But with the season reaching a climax, Blues boss Antonio Conte has turned his fire not on his title rivals, but the two big spending Manchester clubs, City and United, who face each other on Thursday in the battle for a top-four finish.

 

In what has been seen as a swipe at Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, Conte said: "I think this season it's very important to understand that it's not always about who spends more money who wins.

 

"I think in every situation it's important to find the right balance. If you have to spend money, try and spend that money in the right way to take players with the right characteristics for your idea of football."

 

He then made it clear he was talking about the two Manchester clubs by saying it was "normal" for them to spend "if they think this is the right way to win the title".

 

However, his own spending last summer - forking out more than £100m for N'Golo Kante, Michy Batshuayi, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso - was "to build something important for the present, to put the foundations down and be strong, stronger for the future", he said.

 

He added that winning the Premier League this season would be a "great achievement".

 

Conte arrived in England last summer after three successive Serie A titles at Juventus, reports Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph, but rates the Premier League as harder to win because of the riches available to the competition.

 

Law adds: "Chelsea have previously been accused of buying success during the Roman Abramovich era, but they were comfortably outspent by both City and United this season.

 

"City will finish the season trophyless, despite splashing out almost £200m on new signings, while United are still not sure of qualification for the Champions League after investing around £150m in their squad."

 

Conte's comments could be a sign of things to come, says Gary Jacob of The Times.

 

"There were odds of 20-1 on Chelsea winning the title when they lost 3-0 to Arsenal in September and, considering their meteoric rise, Conte has kept a relatively low profile. He has avoided controversial statements and taken the digs from Jose Mourinho on the chin, but the Italian gives the impression that he is ready to unleash a series of blows at his old foe when the job is done."

 

Conte committed and Chelsea fit as they close in on title

7 April

Chelsea travel to Bournemouth on Saturday knowing victory will leave them no more than 15 points away from the Premier League title - and if Watford springs a surprise against Spurs earlier that day, the target could be even less. 

However, despite being within five wins of the title, manager Antonio Conte has been forced to deny speculation in Italy he is set to quit the Blues this summer.

"Reports in the manager's home country - quoting an agent, Federico Pastorello - had suggested he was considering a move, with Inter Milan the most likely destination," reports the BBC

Conte insisted he was staying put.

"I'm very happy to stay," he said. "I read this interview about Pastorello - I don't know him and I don't know why this person has spoken about me.

"I worked in Italy; they want to come back for me in Italy. It's normal.

"I have two more years of contract with Chelsea."

The speculation can at least provide headlines at Stamford Bridge as there is little else for Blues fans to worry about, particularly after Victor Moses was passed fit after missing two games. Chelsea's shock defeat to Crystal Palace was partly down to his absence, with makeshift wingback Pedro exposed by Wilfried Zaha.

With a fully fit squad, a manager who does not want to leave and the title just around the corner, there seems little to stop the Chelsea juggernaut.

However, Eddie Howe and Bournemouth may have other ideas. "After losing to Manchester United on the opening day the Cherries have claimed the scalps of Liverpool, Everton and Leicester at home this season and go into the meeting with Chelsea unbeaten in five Premier League matches," writes Ed Aarons of The Guardian

But while Bournemouth will give their all, neither Mark Lawrenson of the BBC nor Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson expect anything other than a Chelsea win.

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