Belfast Telegraph

Conte silent on speculation over Chelsea exit

Blues have endured a difficult defence of their Premier League title.

Antonio Conte refused to be drawn on his future as Chelsea manager amid reports Napoli’s Maurizio Sarri has been lined up to replace him.

The Italian’s position has been the subject of uncertainty since the start of the season. The Blues have fallen from grace spectacularly and now look on course to miss out on Champions League qualification having been Premier League champions last season.

Conte, who has been linked with a return to former role as Italy coach, said: “This is not my job to answer this type of question. My job is to work with these players and try and finish this season as strongly as possible.

“There is always speculation around our position. This is not only for me, but for a lot of coaches. This is our job. For us, for me, the most important thing now is to be focused on Chelsea and to try to improve, to improve this season and finish in the best possible way.

“Honestly, I’m not curious. Also because I don’t read the papers. Honestly, I’m not interested in this. My only worry is to do my job and my work with my players in the best way possible.”

Conte was asked about the future of England midfielder Danny Drinkwater, who has been linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge after an injury-hit campaign.

“(Drinkwater’s) having an unlucky season. He has started this season with a problem in his calf. Now he’s struggling with (another) problem. It’s not a lucky season for him,” the Italian said.

“But we’re talking about a good midfielder, a good player. Now is not the right moment to speak about one player, specifically one situation. It’s a moment we have to think about the team.”

Another subject on the agenda for Conte was whether there was any substance to reports linking goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who spent three seasons on loan with Atletico Madrid between 2011 and 2014, with a return to Spain in the summer.

“My answer is always the same (about Courtois’ contract),” he said. “We are talking about a really good goalkeeper. But, as you know very well, this is a problem to solve between the club and Thibaut.”

Chelsea visit relegation-threatened Southampton on Saturday, where their former striker Mark Hughes is interim manager.

Conte last week excluded Andreas Christensen from the team that drew 1-1 at home to West Ham, but he said that the defender remains in his plans.

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Andreas Christensen, pictured, remains in Conte's plans

“We’re talking about a young player,” the 48-year-old said.

“This is the first season playing at this level. To play at this level means you lose a lot of mental energy. It could be that he can be a bit tired.

“At the same time, to give Gary Cahill the possibility to play is right. We are talking about an important player, not only for Chelsea but also for the national team.

“(Southampton) have great quality in their squad. It’s a great surprise to see them in this position. I consider them a squad with great quality and talented players. For this reason, we must pay great attention because it won’t be easy playing against them.”

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