Belfast Telegraph

Focused Conte won't be distracted from crunch Hammers tie


By Matt McGeehan

Antonio Conte's sole focus is on Chelsea taking three points at West Ham today, rather than the futures of Eden Hazard and David Luiz or tomorrow's Manchester derby.

Chelsea go to the London Stadium trailing Manchester City by 11 points and with a three-point deficit to second-placed Manchester United, who host the leaders tomorrow.

Conte would not entertain questions on the futures of defender Luiz or playmaker Hazard, both of whom have been linked with Real Madrid.

And when questioned on the Manchester derby, which he plans to watch from his Surrey home, Conte declined to say what the ideal result for Chelsea would be.

"The best result is to win against West Ham and then anything can happen in the Manchester derby," Conte said. "For me, the best result is our result, to try to win in a difficult game."

Luiz is out with a knee injury having initially been dropped following the 3-0 loss at Roma on October 31. He has appeared once since, at Qarabag, and Conte has previously angrily rebuffed suggestions of a falling out.

The Italian opted not to answer when asked about the prospect of the Brazilian leaving in January.

Conte said: "There is a lot of games before the transfer window. Now I think is not the right moment to speak about this. Now this is not important."

On Hazard, who has been repeatedly linked with Real due to his admiration for Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane, Conte added: "It's important to be focused on this moment. Then, when it is the right moment, I will try to answer this question."

Conte's focus is on trying to keep pace with City at the top of the table.

City lost for the first time since April at Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night, but have won 13 successive Premier League games - level with Arsenal's 2002 streak and Chelsea's single-season record of 12 months ago - and Conte cannot see Pep Guardiola's side losing again.

"It's very difficult to see two defeats in a row for a great team," Conte added. "At the same time, United can beat City."

Chelsea did lose successive games in October, to City and to Crystal Palace. But the Blues are since undefeated in eight domestic games, winning six of their last seven in the Premier League. Their most recent defeat was at Roma.

The fixture list, on paper at least, appears kind to Chelsea prior to the January 3 trip to Arsenal, with all the opposition 10th or lower. West Ham are one place off the bottom in 19th.

But Conte is taking nothing for granted. He said: "It's a good period if we are able to win. This league is very tough, especially because there is a team (City) on an extraordinary path. West Ham have a good squad, good players. To see them in this position is a bit strange."

Danny Drinkwater is out after the midfielder missed three days of training through illness, while there are "two or three" undisclosed doubts.

Belfast Telegraph

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