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Conte warns Chelsea players not to let levels drop

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea are nine points clear at the top of the Premier League © IKIMAGES/AFP/File / IKIMAGES

LONDON, United Kingdom, Feb 3 – Chelsea manager Antonio Conte warned his players not to succumb to complacency ahead of the Premier League leaders’ home game against Arsenal on Saturday.

Chelsea are nine points clear of second-place Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, who trail their north London rivals on goal difference, and odds-on favourites for the title.

But Conte, who won eight Serie A titles with Juventus — five as a player and three as a coach — says there is still a long way to go.

“Anything can happen. It’s important to keep the antenna very high,” he told his pre-match press conference at Chelsea’s training base in Cobham, southwest of London, on Friday.

“If someone thinks that the league is finished, I’m not so sure. I want to have this tension, this right tension. In the past I fight to win the title and I know we must pay great attention.

“There are 15 games to play and there are a lot of great teams behind us.”

Chelsea lost 3-0 at Arsenal in late September, a game that saw Conte switch to a 3-4-3 formation, which prompted a run of 13 successive wins.

They have dropped points only twice in 17 league games since the defeat at the Emirates Stadium, losing 2-0 at Tottenham Hotspur last month and drawing 1-1 at Liverpool on Tuesday.

But Conte says he has kept the loss at Arsenal in his thoughts as a reminder both of how far his team have come and how important it is they maintain their current standards.

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“This defeat seems far (away), but it’s important to remember the defeat against Arsenal,” he said.

“It was a bad defeat, 3-0 after the first half. And in my mind it’s present, it’s always present, this defeat.

“I hope also in the mind of my players. I think it’s important to remember the first game against Arsenal. A lot of things changed now. For sure we are a team. We want to have a good game tomorrow.”

Conte was once again obliged to field questions about the future of striker Diego Costa after reports in Spain suggested he will leave for China at the end of the season.

The Chelsea manager expressed confidence that Costa was in a positive frame of mind, but, perhaps tellingly, refused to look beyond the end of the campaign.

“Every week I hear a lot of news, a lot of speculation about Diego,” Conte said.

“I think now the most important thing is to be focused on this championship. We are in a good position. Diego is an important player for us, is very happy to stay for us.

“The summer is far. It’s important to think in the present.”

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