Antonio Conte yearns for return to Champions League
Chelsea manager sets European standard for his league-topping players
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte misses competing in the Champions League. Photograph: Reuters.
Antonio Conte has set his Chelsea players the challenge to re-establish themselves in the Champions League and revealed one of the principal objectives set by Roman Abramovich upon the Italian’s appointment as manager was to restore the team to Europe’s elite club competition.
Chelsea will seek to move 10 points clear of the chasing pack by winning at West Ham United on Monday night, with a return to the Champions League looking a formality. The team finished 10th last season, failing to qualify for European competition for the first time in the Abramovich era, with Conte admitting he is missing involvement at that level.
“For me and my players, yes, the Champions League must be an appointment for us every year,” said Conte, who won the European Cup as a Juventus player in 1996. “It must be our home, the Champions League.
“For this reason, we are putting our strength into playing in the Champions League next season. It’s a great competition for every single player, every single club and manager, and we want to reach it, stay in it and try to fight to win it. But to win the title and find a place to play the Champions League is not easy.
“We started our season aiming to fight until the end to win the title and to be in the right position to go into next -season’s Champions League. It wasn’t easy to start the season and know six strong teams would be fighting for the title and the Cham-pions League. Of those six, two won’t play in the competition next season. They have to go into the Europa League.”
Conte has been a regular spectator at Champions League games this term, most recently Manchester City’s 5-3 first-leg win against Monaco in the last 16. “Because I wanted to breathe it in, the right atmosphere and feel this type of game,” he said.
Chelsea retain an interest in the 22-year-old Monaco midfielder Tiemoué Bakayoko but would face competition from Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.
The leaders expect a “very physical” game at West Ham and have been pre-paring to repel Andy Carroll.