Belfast Telegraph

Conte is preparing for a physical duel with the Hammers

West Ham Utd v Chelsea, Premier League, London Stadium, Tonight, 8.00pm

By Miguel Delaney

Antonio Conte says he is preparing for a "physical" match at West Ham United tonight, and is conscious of how Chelsea dropped points in their last away game to Burnley.

The league leaders had gone ahead in that clash through Pedro, only for Burnley to battle back and claim a point through Robbie Brady's divine free-kick, emphasising what has perhaps been a slight drop-off in performance from the Blues of late.

Conte, however, has them primed for what is likely to be a combative derby.

"This game against West Ham is very important. In the last away game, we drew. Burnley played very physical football against us. Maybe it will be the same against West Ham. But for this reason we are preparing for this type of situation," he said.

Chelsea are meanwhile "satisfied" with assurances made by the Hammers that tonight's match at the London Stadium will not see the crowd trouble that coloured their 2-1 League Cup defeat at the ground in October.

Security members of both clubs have been in liaison about the fixture, with Conte describing that earlier match as "an exception" to what he has generally found the excellent atmospheres of English stadiums.

"Last time wasn't good," the Italian said. "I hope in this game our fans, the West Ham fans, enjoy the game and find the right atmosphere. Usually in every game you find the right atmosphere. The last game against West Ham there was an exception. But I hope, on Monday, to find a good atmosphere in the stadium. I think the players, the club, the country deserves this."

Conte was forced to reiterate his commitment to Chelsea amid rumours of a return to his homeland with Inter Milan, insisting he wants to live "different experiences" when his time at Stamford Bridge comes to an end.

The 47-year-old, who began a three-year contract last July, has revived Chelsea this season, but is pragmatic enough to recognise that the life of a football manager is a perilous one.

"In my mind, there is the will to find different experiences in different countries," said Conte.

"I think it's fantastic to find these experiences. When I was a footballer, I played for only two teams: Lecce and Juventus.

"But in my career I wanted to go and play in different countries.

"Now I am having this great experience in England, in an amazing league. For me, this is great. And I hope to live this experience with my family next season."

It is the absence of wife Elisabetta and daughter Vittoria, who have remained in Italy, which likely ignited the rumour mill of Conte being unsettled.

"If you ask me if my family is missing me, honestly, I have to say yes," Conte added. "It's not easy to stay alone, and live this experience with my family still in Italy."

The other challenge is that Conte went from managing his country at Euro 2016 to immediately taking up his post at Chelsea, so there was no time for respite.

"This is my first season away, in a new country, with a new language and new habits, and it's totally different," he added.

"But now, after seven months, I'm very happy of my experiences so far with Chelsea.

"I'm sure we can improve a lot in the future."

Belfast Telegraph


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