Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Barca visit presents Champions League stage Conte craves



Barca visit presents Champions League stage Conte craves

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte (right) talks with the fourth official during their Premier League match with West Brom on February 12. AFP
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte (right) talks with the fourth official during their Premier League match with West Brom on February 12. AFP

Barca visit presents Champions League stage Conte craves

Barcelona’s visit to Chelsea tonight (at 2:45am Cambodian time) gives Antonio Conte the perfect opportunity to reaffirm his stature as one of Europe’s greatest coaches.

“To play against Barcelona is a great challenge for us,” Conte said after easing the pressure on his job with back-to-back home wins over West Brom and Hull in the past week.

“We must be excited to play this type of game, especially against this team. I consider Barcelona one of the best teams in the world.”

Conte also considers himself one of the best coaches in the world, referring to himself despite a recent 4-1 drubbing at Watford as “a winner.”

He does so with some justification.

In a glittering coaching career, Conte made Juventus title winners again with three consecutive Serie A titles after a five-year drought.

He also surpassed expectations by leading an Italy side short on star names to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, and delivered the Premier League in his debut season at Chelsea.

However, a second season slump at the Bridge and his fractious relationship with the club’s hierarchy means most believe the Italian won’t last at Chelsea beyond the end of the season at the latest.

Whether it is to convince Roman Abramovich and close aid Marina Granovskaia he should remain in charge next season or to attract the attention of Europe’s other giants who may be looking for a coach come the summer, Conte needs Champions League nights to remember.

His two years in the competition at Juventus ended in a 4-0 quarter-final aggregate thrashing from Bayern Munich and an embarrassing group stage exit behind Galatasaray.

Conte’s recruiting complaints

Conte complained then it was impossible for Italian sides to compete at the latter stages of the Champions League. It didn’t help his case then that his successor Massimiliano Allegri then led Juve to two Champions League finals in three seasons.

There have been similarities between Conte’s final days at Juventus and many of his public outbursts against the Chelsea ownership this season over his lack of input over recruitment and how much is spent.

“I think I’m a bit of a disaster to convince the club to buy the players,” Conte said last week. “I have to speak more with the managers who are very, very good to persuade their clubs to spend money and buy top players.”

Conte may then welcome his meeting with the more softly-spoken Ernesto Valverde this week.

In Valverde’s eight-month spell in charge, Barca have smashed their club record transfer fee twice for Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho.

Yet, it is in a very different way that Conte may be able to learn from Valverde as neither Dembele or Coutinho have made much impact on Barca opening up a seven-point La Liga lead and booking their place in the Copa del Rey final.

Instead, Valverde has made the best of what he inherited to turn Barca from the depths of a pre-season crisis into potential treble winners.

Neymar’s decision to walk out on the club for a world record 222 million euros to Paris Saint-Germain was a huge loss that Valverde has used as an opportunity to reconstruct a more solid side that maintains the firepower of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in attack.

A change from Barca’s traditional 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 has seen them concede just once in their six Champions League games to date, and 11 times in 24 La Liga outings.

Meanwhile, the space left unoccupied by Neymar has unleashed left-back Jordi Alba as an attacking threat.

Alba was on target as Barca equalled a club record by avoiding defeat for a 31st straight La Liga game in a 2-0 win at Eibar on Saturday.

Most of all, Valverde’s calm has restored stability to a club that badly needed a steady hand after a tumultuous summer.

That may be the lesson Conte and Chelsea can learn from most of all before careering towards another messy divorce at the end of the season.

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • Cambodia to make auto-rickshaws

    Locally-assembled electric auto-rickshaws could hit the Cambodian market as soon as early in May after the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) gave the greenlight to an investment project at the weekend. According to a CDC press release, it will issue a final registration