Belfast Telegraph

I have a rebuilding job at Chelsea, says boss Conte

Antonio Conte's first campaign may end with the league and cup double, but the Chelsea manager says the best is yet to come from a team in "transition".

The former Juventus and Italy coach took over a side which had endured a miserable season, surrendering their title so meekly that b oss Jose Mourinho left the club midway through the campaign amid talk of player unrest.

Chelsea finished that season in 10th, and have kicked on markedly under the new man at the helm.

Conte's side are four points clear at the top of the Premier League with just six matches remaining and will face Arsenal in next month's FA Cup final after overcoming title rivals Tottenham with a thrilling 4-2 semi-final win.

Chelsea last did the league and FA Cup double in 2010 as Carlo Ancelotti enjoyed a similarly impressive first season in the hot seat, although Conte highlighted the different circumstances his compatriot faced.

"I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition," the Chelsea head coach said.

"In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

"We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot.

"Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

"I think that in the period with Carlo - and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him - he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad.

"Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.

"It's not easy when you lose these type of players, but we need to show patience to build the foundations and then improve every season.

"I repeat, if you ask me last season, after our 10th place, and this season you stay on top of the table and you reach the FA Cup final, but you didn't change a lot, I think it's great. But we must continue to work and improve."

Improvements are certainly clear in Chelsea's results after Conte took over "underdogs", just as he did when taking the reins at Juventus before leading them to Serie A glory.

Victories are key, but owner Roman Abramovich's reported preference for free-flowing football brings its own pressure.

"For me, it is very important to develop our football," Conte said.

"If you compare our team with Tottenham's, (Spurs boss Mauricio) Pochettino has worked for three years. I started to work only seven or eight months ago.

"If we are able to take the right player to improve this squad and to continue to work with these players, we can improve for sure."

Chelsea will build from a position of strength should they beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final and pip Spurs to the Premier League.

The London rivals' title battle continues during the week, with Conte starting Eden Hazard and Diego Costa from the bench at Wembley with Tuesday's clash with Southampton in mind.

Tottenham return the following day at Crystal Palace and Pochettino does not believe the semi-final loss has thrown their title charge off-kilter.

"For the rest of the season, nothing changes," the Spurs boss said.

"The team are showing unbelievable performances and playing well. It is a big disappointment today but I will change absolutely nothing.

"This is only our second season as one of the teams fighting for the Premier League. We deserve a lot of credit.

"It is true we will feel disappointed if we do not win at the end of the season, but it is important to see where we came from.

"Maybe people will start to realise that the club deserves to be in this situation."

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