Antonio Conte insists speculation over his job will not derail his attempt to get his struggling Chelsea side back on track tonight against Watford (at 3am Cambodian time) in the fight for a top-four finish in the Premier League.
The English champions need to bounce back from a humiliating 3-0 home thrashing by Bournemouth on Wednesday, which put further strain on Conte’s relationship with the Chelsea hierarchy, after the Italian described his preparations for the match a “disaster” due to a busy few days of transfer business before the January window closed.
However, Conte, who led Chelsea to the title in a spectacular opening campaign in England last season, reiterated his intention to at least see out his contract until 2019 despite speculation he could return to fill the vacant position as coach of the Italian national team.
“I still have 18 months on my contract with Chelsea,” said the Italian. “My intention, my will, my desire is to respect this contract.”
Bournemouth’s victory at Stamford Bridge in midweek brought back memories of Chelsea’s opening day collapse at home to Burnley in an early sign that a bigger challenge awaited Conte in his second season.
“From the start of the season after our defeat against Burnley [there has been] a lot of speculation about my sacking,” added Conte. “But I’m not interested in this and my only desire is to continue to work, to be focused on my team to try to do the best with this team.
“I trust in my work and this is the only way that brought me to be one of the best managers. I don’t trust in anything else, only in my work and my job.”
Chelsea’s squad was bolstered by the arrival of Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmieri on the final day of the transfer window, but Conte doesn’t expect either player to be fit enough to make an immediate impact.
Few options up front
Palmieri has only recently returned from a long layoff due to a cruciate ligament injury, while Giroud suffered from a hamstring problem in his final weeks at Arsenal.
“We have to wait because don’t forget that especially for Palmieri we are talking about a player he’s coming from a bad injury,” Conte added.
“Olivier is coming [back] from a muscular injury. He was out for 50 days before he played 15 minutes in the game against Swansea [for Arsenal on Tuesday]. We are working with him and we have to check his physical condition. It won’t be easy for him to start.”
Giroud’s lack of match fitness means Conte is once again struggling for options up front with Alvaro Morata still absent due to a back injury and Michy Batshuayi having left to join Borussia Dortmund as part of a three-way deal between Chelsea, Arsenal and the German giants that saw Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang join the Gunners.
Watford are in desperate need of the points themselves as new manager Javi Gracia targets a first win since he replaced the sacked Marco Silva.