Conte plays dumb over Chelsea’s Sanchez link

Antonio Conte is reluctant to consider the possibility of Alexis Sanchez joining Chelsea as the head coach does not think the Blues are in the race to sign the Arsenal forward.
Conte plays dumb over Chelsea’s Sanchez link

Sanchez is out of contract this summer and seemed certain to join Premier League leaders Manchester City this month.

But City on Monday ended their interest because of the costs involved, with Manchester United in pole position and Chelsea reportedly entering the bidding.

Conte last Friday spoke of his admiration for Sanchez and described any potential cut-priced deal for the striker as a great opportunity.

Asked yesterday if the Premier League champions were actively seeking to sign Sanchez, Conte said: “I don’t know, but I don’t think so.”

Pressed later, the Italian suggested discussing any move for Sanchez would be hypothetical, as he said: “I like to talk about situations that could be real. This is not important to talk about Sanchez. Because he’s not our good problem, so why do I have to waste words for nothing?”

Conte, speaking ahead of tonight’s FA Cup third-round replay at home to Norwich, repeated his role is to coach, not in recruitment, which is the responsibility of the Chelsea hierarchy, notably director Marina Granovskaia.

Michy Batshuayi has been linked with a move away from Chelsea this month, with a loan to Sevilla a reported possibility.

Conte says the Belgium striker will play against Norwich. “In the future I don’t know what happens, also because the final decision is for the club, not for me,” Conte added.

Chelsea have not won in 2018, drawing their last four games. The last three have been goalless, but Conte reckons Chelsea’s luck will soon change.

He added: “We have to continue to work and maybe, then the game will arrive that you score a lot of goals. You shoot and you score, you shoot and you score.”

Conte plans to rotate his options, but Ross Barkley is ineligible and Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas (both hamstrings) are out.

The Blues boss had pencilled Barkley into his squad, but the midfielder was not signed from Everton by the required registration deadline to play in the original tie at Carrow Road on January 6, so is unavailable.

Conte now hopes to arrange a practice match for Barkley, before bringing him into the first-team squad.

“Probably we are preparing a friendly game for him this week and then we’ll see his physical condition,” Conte added.

David Luiz is to start in the centre of a back three which also includes 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu.

Conte added: “He deserves to play. This is unusual for a player who is only 17 years old.”

Eden Hazard has been substituted 10 times in the Premier League this season, more than any other Chelsea player.

Conte explained this was, in part, due to the Belgium playmaker’s ankle operation which meant he did not complete pre-season.

When asked if Hazard accepted the situation, Conte said: “My first target is to do the best for the player and for the team, not to make every single player happy. Otherwise we risk to finish 20th in the table.”

While Chelsea have struggled for goals of late, Norwich boss Daniel Farke is wary of a potential backlash tonight. “I would prefer it if they had won their last four and then would maybe be paying less attention to this game!” Farke said. “They haven’t scored for three games so they will be wanting to show they can score, especially in a home match.

“They know they have to be focused to beat us after how well we played in the first game, so it’s going to be trickier to be successful — especially as it’s away. Chelsea will maybe be focusing on the FA Cup to win a trophy, but we can play without any pressure and enjoy this game.”

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