Chelsea duo sign off in style as Antonio Conte focuses on Anfield

Chelsea 4 Brentford 0: As impressive as Antonio Conte’s revival of Chelsea has been, Asmir Begovic is ready to sacrifice a role in the club’s bid to complete a league and cup double in favour of regular first-team football.

Chelsea duo sign off in style as Antonio Conte focuses on Anfield

Begovic was handed a rare start in Saturday’s routine FA Cup victory over Brentford but that was not enough to satisfy the highly-regarded goalkeeper who, at 29, is in his prime for his position. Like Branislav Ivanovic, who appears likely to end his nine-year association with the club before tomorrow’s transfer deadline, with Zenit St Petersburg the full-back’s most likely destination, Begovic has likely made his last appearance as a Chelsea player.

The pair leave Chelsea in a position of strength, with Conte’s side heading to Liverpool tomorrow night with an eight-point advantage at the head of the Premier League and in the last 16 of the cup. For Begovic, though, the role of bystander is not enough.

A €14m move to Bournemouth appears likely, with Celtic’s Craig Gordon earmarked as his replacement. “For me, it’s about wanting to play,” said Begovic. “I have found it very difficult not playing for a long time, as that is something I like to do. If it is under the right circumstances and everyone is happy, then I hope something can get done.

“It is difficult when you don’t play for a certain amount of time. It would be a waste not to play and show people what I can do. I do believe I can play at this level.”

Having threatened Thibaut Courtois’s position as number one keeper at the club last season, when he started 20 games in the Premier League and Champions League, the Bosnian has now accepted he will not dislodge his team-mate.

“Thibaut has been on absolute fire this year and one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and I knew that. But I want to test myself against those guys and feel I’m one of them. Unfortunately, no club is big enough to have two really good goalkeepers.”

This was a routine warm-up ahead of the more demanding visit to Anfield. Only Pedro and Cesar Azipilicueta are likely to retain their starting places, although Willian did his cause no harm when he curled home a 14th-minute free-kick. And there was no way back for Brentford once Pedro slotted home in the 21st minute. Ivanovic then got in on the act, on his expected swansong, when he drove in with 69 minutes played and there was still time for the Serbian defender to be tripped for a penalty converted by Michy Batshuayi to wrap up a 10th successive home win.

The last time Chelsea failed to win at home was against Liverpool in last September’s 2-1 defeat. But after suffering three home losses in a week in three different competitions, Conte fears Liverpool will be in defiant mood.

“It’s very strange because when you play at Anfield it’s very difficult for all the teams,” said Conte. “We’ll have great difficulty to face them because when you arrive after three defeats, you are very angry and we must know this. Liverpool will be like a wounded animal.

“If you remember after that game I said Liverpool is already a team and Chelsea is not a team. After four months a lot of things have changed. We are growing a lot, improving a lot.I think that it will be more difficult for Liverpool.”

Brentford now concentrate on securing their Championship status and must decide whether to sell star striker Scott Hogan, a target of West Ham. “When you’re talking about the numbers in terms of wages in the Premier League, it’s going to turn any young man’s head,” said Brentford manager Dean Smith.

CHELSEA (3-5-2):

Begovic 6, Azipilicueta 6 (Kenedy 70, 5), Zouma 6, Terry 6; Pedro 8 (Costa 76), Chalobah 6, Fabregas 7, Ake 6; Loftus-Cheek 8, Willian 8 (Ivanovic 64, 6), Batshuayi 6.

BRENTFORD (3-5-2):

Bentley 7, Egan 5, Dean 5, Bjellland 5; Colin 7, Yennaris 7, McEachran 6 (Kerschbaumer 78), Woods 5, Barbet 5; Sawyers 5 (Hogan 64, 5), Vibe 5 (Jota 65, 5).


Michael Oliver

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