Belfast Telegraph

Antonio Conte urging Chelsea to build on their perfect start

By Robert Jones

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has urged his team to continue their winning start to the season when they host Bristol Rovers tonight.

Victories over West Ham and Watford in the Barclays Premier League have opened Conte's reign in perfect style ahead of their second-round tie in the EFL Cup at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea are expected to make changes against their Sky Bet League One opponents, but boss Conte expects whoever plays to extend the winning run.

"Losing always leaves sad things in you," the Blues manager said.

"You can lose your confidence and for this reason it was important to win these two games because you can continue to trust in the work and raise the confidence of the players.

"For these reasons it was important to start in the right way for all of us. Now we must continue and we have a great chance to continue in the next game at home."

Colombia winger Juan Cuadrado is a target for Juventus and will miss out on the clash and defender Kurt Zouma remains sidelined with long-term knee trouble.

Conte could give Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi his first competitive start for the club if he chooses to rest star striker Diego Costa.

Batshuayi, a £33.1million summer signing from Marseille, made impressive contributions from the bench against West Ham and Watford and is pushing hard for a start.

Midfielder John Obi Mikel is not expected to be available until the Premier League clash with Swansea on September 11 after helping Nigeria win a bronze medal in the Olympics.

The Blues, meanwhile, have had a £30million bid rejected for AC Milan defender Alessandro Romagnoli as Conte looks to shore up his defence.

Milan had earlier rejected an enquiry from Chelsea into how much they wanted for the centre-back, who is reportedly pushing for a move away from the Serie A club.

Conte turned his focus to the Italian after Napoli turned down their final bid of £40million for another of their transfer targets, Kalibou Koulibaly.

The Senegalese is now set to put pen to paper on a new five-year contract with the club.

It is understood that Conte will turn his attention to unhappy Torino centre-back Nikola Maksimovic if he is unsuccessful in his bid for Romagnoli.

Torino would only be tempted by a bid of over £25million, a fee that Chelsea are reportedly willing to meet.

The defender has been likened to fellow Serb Nemanja Vidic and Juventus captain Leonardo Bonucci, another player who Conte failed to lure over the summer.

Arsenal are another London club in need of a defender and boss Arsene Wenger has confirmed that they are still in negotiations to sign Valencia's Shkodran Mustafi and hopes to complete the move before next week's transfer deadline.

Wenger has come in for fierce criticism this summer for failing to make progress in the transfer window, with the additions of Granit Xhaka and Rob Holding deemed inadequate by the majority of the club's fans to inspire the side to a genuine title challenge.

Despite the season-opening 4-3 defeat by Liverpool, Wenger has not completed any further signings.

With Arsenal short in defence after seeing Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista ruled out with long-term injuries, fans called on Wenger to spend in the transfer window via fierce protests - both at the Emirates a week ago and at the King Power Stadium after Saturday's 1-1 draw with Leicester City.

Wenger has now confirmed though that he is trying to sign 24-year-old Mustafi and insisted negotiations remain ongoing.

"Mustafi? We hope it will be done," Wenger said. "He is one of a number of players we are looking at. Negotiations are ongoing."

Belfast Telegraph


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