Belfast Telegraph

Antonio Conte gearing up for Anfield test as Chelsea begin 'very important' week

Chelsea face two Premier League matches in five days which could enhance their title chances, but Antonio Conte is thinking only of Tuesday night's trip to Liverpool.

The Blues lost consecutive Premier League games to Liverpool and Arsenal in September, but have won 17 of 19 games in all competitions since and top the table by eight points.

While Liverpool made nine changes and exited the FA Cup on Saturday, Conte made the same wholesale switches as Chelsea beat Brentford 4-0 for a 10th successive home win. Arsenal will aim to end that Stamford Bridge run next Saturday.

"This week is very important," Conte told Chelsea TV.

"We'll have two tough games against two teams that for me can fight to win the title.

"It's important to prepare in the right way and to think game by game.

"Now it's important to think against Liverpool, to have a good performance and to try to have a good result.

"Then we'll think about Arsenal."

Chelsea have long harboured hopes of developing young talent to consistently perform in the first team and often been criticised for failing to do so.

And Conte was pleased with his squad players' performances as Chelsea reached the fifth round.

But the Italian stressed the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathan Ake and Kenedy, who is now committed to Chelsea for the rest of the season having already played on loan at Watford, must prove they deserve to play.

"I think that our young players are growing and for the club, for me, it's very important," Conte added.

"In this season we haven't Champions League or Europa League. We have only the league now and the FA Cup.

"FA Cup is a good opportunity to see these young players, the improvement in these young players.

"Young players for me, for the club are very important. If they deserve to play, I'm ready to put them in the team, in the squad.

"I'm not scared of the young players. The only thing I must ask is they must be ready to play."

Brentford lost for a third straight game, but captain Harlee Dean took confidence from the contest with the Premier League leaders.

The Bees play at home to Aston Villa on Tuesday night and Brighton on Sunday, but striker Scott Hogan's participation remains uncertain.

Hogan, who came off the bench for his first appearance in almost four weeks on Saturday after being linked with West Ham, will be sold if a club meet Brentford's £15million valuation.

"We've got players who are definitely good enough to make the step up," Dean said on brentfordfc.co.uk.

"A lot of players can hold their heads up high after that performance, even though we lost 4-0.

"We've got no shame and no regrets, so it's good."

Brentford head coach Dean Smith added: "Both at home and both big games. Aston Villa are a big club and Brighton & Hove Albion are up the top of the league.

"Massive games for us. We want to get back to winning ways and we have to put on a performance in front of our fans and give them something to shout about."

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