Conte says City’s spending likely to keep them at the top
Chelsea manager says club must continue the quest for a top-four spot at Burnley
Antonio Conte: “They [Manchester City] did a great job on and off the pitch; they were very well prepared for the season. I like the way they improved the team and the squad.” Photograph: Adam Davy/PA
City were crowned champions on Sunday when Manchester United lost to West Brom, and with five games remaining they can still break Chelsea’s record points tally of 95.
Conte has repeatedly criticised his club’s hierarchy this season for what he considers a lack of investment that has undermined their title defence. The Italian cited City’s ambition and willingness to continue spending and backing their manager Pep Guardiola as a reason why they will continue to excel.
The Chelsea manager, who is not expected to remain at Stamford Bridge beyond the end of the season, said: “Manchester City is one club that can continue to dominate, to win. Not only in England but also to fight for the Champions League.
“They have the possibility to do this; it is a very strong club, they have an important squad with great players, and are a club that want to invest and improve. There are a lot of things that are right.
“They have dominated this season and it’s right to compliment them on winning this league; this league is not simple to win.
“The way they did it was incredible. They did a great job on and off the pitch; they were very well prepared for the season. I like the way they improved the team and the squad.”
Chelsea’s hopes of an unlikely top-four finish have been strengthened by Tottenham dropping five points in their past two games, meaning Conte’s team could cut the deficit to five points with a win at Burnley.
“We have to try until the end to reach this target,” said the Chelsea manager.
“If we want to be realistic with five games to go it is not simple to reduce the gap but we must have the will to fight. We must have the desire to try and take this target and why not?
“We have an important game against a really strong team. It won’t be easy to get three points but we have to try in every game to do our best and try to avoid what happened against Southampton in the first 60 minutes, because we played badly not only in a tactical and technical aspect but also in spirit.
“We have to avoid this if we want to keep the hope to finish in the top four.”
Conte believes he has a more difficult job than Sean Dyche and other managers who have smaller transfer budgets and are expected to fight relegation.
The Premier League table shows minimal difference between fifth-placed Chelsea and Burnley, who lie seventh, but perceptions could hardly be more contrasting. It has been cast as a failure for Conte’s defending champions while Dyche, whose team had been expected to struggle, has led Burnley to challenge for a Europa League place.
Conte praised his peer before the meeting at Turf Moor but left little doubt that he did not take kindly to their performances being directly compared, making particular reference to a difference in transfer priorities.
“He is doing an important job, a great job this season,” Conte said of Dyche. “But if you start the season fighting to avoid the relegation zone it is more simple – also if you have a small budget, because you can count on the team that in the past qualified to play again in the league. It is more difficult when you have to prepare in the transfer market to win something, because only one team wins.”
The essence of his point was that, having finished 16th last season, Burnley could rely on the same core of players to survive again and had little need to seek reinforcements, a longstanding topic of tension between Conte and the Chelsea hierarchy. Asked to elaborate, he suggested it was harder for those looking to avoid the drop – an ambition he ascribed to half the teams in the division – to fail than those that are expected to win trophies.
“You have to avoid the last three places at the bottom, and then you can stay between 10 teams that play only for this target,” he said.
“You have to fight only to avoid this. It is difficult if you have to play to win because only one team wins and if the other doesn’t win you are the first to speak about a failed season. If you don’t win the FA Cup, the league, the Carabao Cup, it’s a failure season and for this reason it’s more difficult to play for this target.”
Conte pointed out that he began his managerial career with the Italian minnows Arezzo, who were relegated under his charge, and said he was the “last person to [answer] this question” when the hypothetical prospect of swapping jobs with Dyche was mooted. His position remains under enough scrutiny but if Burnley are defeated the gap to fourth-placed Tottenham will narrow to five points.
Emerson Palmieri is likely to start in the Premier League for the first time. He will replace Marcos Alonso, who may in any case be starting a three-match ban for violent conduct if an FA charge – brought for a challenge on Southampton’s Republic of Ireland international Shane Long – is upheld.