06 Feb Chelsea no longer an ‘ugly duckling’
Antonio Conte believes his “blind faith” is transforming Chelsea from “an ugly duckling into a swan”.
And the Italian has admitted raising his voice at Diego Costa, the 15-goal striker who missed the win at Leicester amid reports of a bust-up and the prospect of a big-money move to China.
The speculation over Costa’s future appears to have ceased, for now, and Chelsea lead the Premier League by nine points with 14 games to go following Saturday’s 3-1 win over Arsenal.
The Blues have won 16 of 18 Premier League games since successive losses to Liverpool and Arsenal in September prompted Conte to change to a 3-4-3 formation.
Chelsea finished 10th in defence of the title last term, but are now runaway leaders once again.
“If you compare this Chelsea with the team from last season then it’s normal that you’d end up this way: you can’t turn an ugly duckling into a swan in an instant,” Conte, who was installed as Jose Mourinho’s permanent successor last July, told Sky Sport Italia.
“I’m not a coach who compromises and with my blind faith in the work we’re doing, and in my ideas, I’ve been able to forge straight ahead without worrying about anyone else.”
To stretch the animal analogy, Conte has also tamed the beast.
The former Juventus boss appears to have admitted to a heated exchange with Costa.
Conte publicly stood by the official explanation – that Costa had a back injury – but has since stopped short of insisting the striker’s future is at Chelsea.
Conte has consistently spoken of focusing on the present, not looking to the future.
Conte added: “Diego Costa? I was clear with him, I raised my voice and the player understood. Now everything is perfect.”
After being anointed champions by Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger of Arsenal, Conte urged caution.
But his relentless appetite for victory appears to be a warning for the rest of the Premier League.
Chelsea appear to have a favourable run of fixtures in the near future, against Burnley, Swansea, West Ham, Watford, Stoke and Crystal Palace before a home match with City.
He added: “My experiences as a player taught me that you will win a lot and lose a lot too and that instilled in me a fierce will to win.
“Those who are out in front must not falter. It sends a message to those who are following, an increasingly loud message, that we must make the most of this period.”
Midfielder N’Golo Kante won the title with Leicester last season and is on course to repeat the feat with Chelsea.
Conte believes the France midfielder can continue to improve.
“Kante? An extraordinary player in terms of quantity and quality,” he added.
“He manages to cover a lot of the pitch, he’s always ready and willing, and he’s just a great player and a great signing for us.
“He has to improve his build-up play, but he’s that kind of midfielder, one who recovers the ball then makes a sideways pass.
“He needs to learn how to play the ball forwards to play in our strikers and our wingers.”