Conte disputes the odds

Antonio Conte insists it is “difficult to accept” Chelsea as Premier League title favourites, despite their crushing win at Manchester City.

The wary Blues boss believes he will have a clearer picture of Chelsea’s title chances at the end of the hectic Christmas schedule.

Conte was at pains to point out that Chelsea started the season as “underdogs”, so has refused to countenance installing the west London outfit as league favourites despite his men topping the table.

Chelsea host West Brom at Stamford Bridge on Sunday with Conte desperate to ram home the message that his players must maintain a steely focus.

Asked if the 3-1 win at Manchester City leaves Chelsea as title favourites, Conte replied: “It’s difficult to accept this, because I think we have played only 14 games, and to finish that first part of the season, there is the second part.

“We started as underdogs this season, and I think now it’s very difficult to accept this, but it’s normal if you’re playing good football and winning a lot of games.

“It’s important to continue, that from this win we don’t lose our hunger.”

John Terry has not recovered from his gluteal strain so will miss the West Brom tussle, but Nemanja Matic has beaten a calf problem.

Chelsea face Sunderland, Palace, Bournemouth and Stoke following Sunday’s West Brom clash – and all before the end of the month.

Conte repeatedly stressed the importance of keeping his players focused in previewing the West Brom showdown, moving on to illustrate just how much importance he places on his squad producing the goods in training.

“It’s always difficult to say if these five games are a great opportunity,” said Conte. “This league has taught me that every game is very tough.

“If you don’t face every game with great concentration and preparation you can find yourself in trouble.

“Sunday is the type of game we can find difficult if we don’t put the same concentration, the same focus, that we had in the previous games.

“The best reply from my players is to be focused every day during the training session.

“If you have a good training session you show me that you are focused for the game.

“It’s important to talk with the players, but the reply in training and on the pitch is important.”

Conte insisted “January is far away” in fending off all transfer window talk, from rumours over Chelsea eyeing Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez to the long-term Stamford Bridge futures of Cesc Fabregas and John Obi Mikel.

Fabregas has been linked with a move away from Chelsea but produced a compelling showing in the win at Manchester City, leaving Conte purring over his attitude.

Asked if Fabregas provided an example for the whole squad with his composure in biding his time then taking his chance, Conte replied: “For sure, I want this.

“If there is good competition, great competition, this is very important.

“If I haven’t a problem for the decision and it’s always the same line-up, that’s not good.

“It means that our level, our squad is improving. It’s important to continue this challenge.”

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