Belfast Telegraph

Antonio Conte confident Chelsea are proving doubters wrong ahead of City clash

Antonio Conte believes Chelsea are proving their doubters wrong and must continue to do so by sustaining their challenge at the top of the Premier League.

Conte's Chelsea have won seven successive Premier League games, scoring 19 times and conceding once, to top the table entering this weekend's fixtures, where they travel to Manchester City.

Chelsea last season finished a lowly 10th in defence of the title they won a year before, but Conte has quickly rejuvenated the Blues as Jose Mourinho's permanent successor.

Defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal in September have been followed by wins over Hull, champions Leicester, Mourinho's Manchester United, Southampton, Everton, Middlesbrough and Tottenham. Pep Guardiola's City are the biggest challenge yet.

"I remember in my first press conference that not many people trusted in Chelsea, in our work," Conte said.

"I think this must be a great strength for us to continue to work and to change people's opinions.

"We are working for ourselves, for our club, for our fans, to show that we love this shirt, we love this club.

"It's normal if you are a great team like Chelsea, and you play or are the manager of this great team, the expectation is always high.

"Sometimes it's right to be high. Sometimes you have to wait, because you are building something important.

"But now it's important to continue to work to show that Chelsea can fight for a place in the Champions League, can fight for the title, can fight the best teams in this league."

Like the Italian, City's Guardiola is in his first season in the Premier League.

It will be the first time the pair have been in opposite technical areas as managers and Conte is uncertain if they played against each other when Guardiola briefly played in Serie A with Brescia and Roma.

"I think he's a fantastic manager and he's doing fantastic work with Manchester City," former Juventus midfielder Conte said.

"When you see this team, I recognise an idea of football."

Conte was asked if Guardiola, with his established success at Barcelona and then Bayern Munich, was under more pressure than he is.

The former Juventus and Italy boss added: "I put great pressure on myself in every situation.

"I put myself under a lot of pressure and also I try to transfer it on to the staff and also to start putting this pressure on to my players."

The players are performing well under the pressure so far as they seek an eighth straight win.

"We want to show we are working very well and we are growing," Conte added.

"Tomorrow is another step to show us if something changed compared to the start of the season."

Conte did express regret that Kevin de Bruyne would be turning out in City's light blue, rather than Chelsea's royal blue.

The 25-year-old Belgium playmaker was offloaded in January 2014 after being a peripheral figure under Mourinho before thriving at Wolfsburg.

City signed him for £55million after 18 months in the Bundesliga and De Bruyne will be in opposition at the Etihad Stadium.

"I think he's a really great player. It's a pity that now he's playing for another team," Conte said.

"I wish for him the best, (but) after our game."

De Bruyne was frustrated at a lack of chances at Chelsea, but he may have received them under Conte, who has demonstrated his desire to promote from within, most notably with Victor Moses.

"I think it's important to look inside (the club). Always," Conte said.

Chelsea have plenty of options without De Bruyne. The attacking triumvirate of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Pedro have been in fine form of late.

Costa, renowned for antagonising the opposition and officials, has scored 10 times this season and Conte has lauded his contribution and focus.

"Diego is showing great respect, great passion in the right way," said Conte, who could name the same starting XI for a seventh straight league game.

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