Antonio Conte wants Chelsea to win battles so war can be won

Head coach delighted with Diego Costa’s commitment, work-rate and most of all goals

Antonio Conte has backed the policy at Chelsea under which players receive a bonus only if they claim trophies rather than win individual league or cup fixtures or qualify for Europe.

The club, whose players earn a basic salary of up to Eden Hazard’s £200,000 (€233,000) a week, restructured their bonus policy before José Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge in 2013, with the Portuguese willingly adopting the changes and publicly questioning whether top professionals are motivated effectively by financial incentives for individual matches.

Those sentiments are shared by Conte, whose side will attempt at Middlesbrough on Sunday to secure a sixth consecutive top-flight win.

“When you win a game during the championship, you win a battle,” said the Italian, who secured the Premier League’s manager of the month award for October. “One battle. When you win a trophy, you win the war. I like this.


“I love to win the war. To win the war, it’s important also to win the battles during the championship. One’s a consequence of the other. But, for sure, we know that this championship is very difficult because there are a lot of good teams. And, I repeat, we are working very hard to fight with this team until the end.

“I see a chance to build something important with Chelsea here, [and implement] a new method and philosophy. These are the most important things. Then it’s logical, when you play this championship, that you want to fight until the end to win the title, or for a place in the Champions League. But, for me now, it’s important to work with the players, to continue to build something of -importance for Chelsea for the present and the future.”

Full-strength squad

Conte will take a full-strength squad to Teesside, with Cesc Fàbregas fit after a thigh injury and Hazard and Diego Costa recovered from minor knocks and niggles. The Italian is conscious that the momentum built up in the period since Chelsea's last league loss, at Arsenal towards the end of September, was effectively checked by the international break and has worked feverishly in training at Cobham this week to ensure his players hit the ground running.

"We have been working over these days to avoid this, and to find the right concentration and focus," Conte said when asked how you ensure the pause in the campaign does not derail progress. "On Sunday we know we'll have a tough game against a strong team who drew with Arsenal and Manchester City. But I must be honest: there is this possibility, that our momentum might be stopped, so that's why we've been working very hard to avoid this.

“It would be normal that the focus, the concentration, would be a bit lower in this situation so we have to keep them high. I’m worried. I’m worried about keeping this level of concentration, that high intensity and right spirit. That’s why we have worked so hard in training. When you win four or five in a row, that’s what you have to think about.”

Costa, the Premier League's leading scorer with nine goals to date this season, had been released early from the Spain squad by the national manager, Julen Lopetegui, after aggravating a slight groin complaint picked up in the 5-0 win over Everton. That saw the striker miss the friendly with England on Tuesday. But Conte is confident the player, who remains one booking from a one-match suspension, will feature at the Riverside.

“Diego is an example for all, a player who works so hard with or without the ball, and I want to continue this way,” the Italian said. “If he continues to score, I’ll be very happy. But I’ll be happier still to see this commitment, this work-rate during training and in games, to work for the team. If all the players are able to think in this way, it’s fantastic and we’ll be a good team, a very tough team to play.

“Diego is showing he can control himself. It’s fantastic, I think, that Diego is improving a lot under a lot of aspects. For me now, Diego is one of the best strikers in the world. He must continue that, working in this way, with his commitment and work-rate. It’s fantastic to see his work during the games, but also in training.” Guardian service