Antonio Conte insists Chelsea’s season will be considered a success — even if it finishes without a trophy.
The Italian oversaw a highly-impressive first year in English football when he inspired his team to the Premier League title and the final of the FA Cup.
This season they have struggled for the same consistency and remain 15 points behind Manchester City, contributing to suggestions he could leave this summer.
That they head into tonight’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg at Arsenal knowing victory represents their greatest hope of winning a trophy this season would at such a ruthless club usually be considered a significant disappointment.
Chelsea sacked Jose Mourinho seven months after he led them to the title, Carlo Ancelotti a year after the double, and Roberto Di Matteo six months after winning the FA Cup and Champions League.
Conte regardless maintains that last season’s success was “a miracle” and that the club’s hierarchy recognise the challenges — particularly the wealth of the Manchester clubs — they now face after a period with English football’s biggest budget.
“This is already a good season, because we are doing 120%,” said the 48-year-old, whose team sit third in the Premier League.
“I’m doing a fantastic job; the same my players. It’s not important if you reach the final or win a trophy or win the league. The most important thing is to see if the coach and players are working very well.
“There are two teams in this league who are ‘top’. They stay there. The others have to fight for a place in the Champions League.
“Last season we did a fantastic job and did a little miracle. This season is showing this.”
Conte also dismissed reports Chelsea had been interested in signing Alexis Sanchez, who on Monday left Arsenal for Manchester United, despite them having already spent almost £300m (€341.5m) in the two seasons since Mourinho’s appointment.
“We never were in this race,” he said. “Ever. Especially because one of the reasons was this amount of salary. Only one or two clubs can pay this type of salary.
“Manchester United and Manchester City stay there and we have to try and build something important to create a basis, and then make success with our work. Not with money. With work.”
Andreas Christensen is available to face Arsenal despite a head injury suffered in Saturday’s 4-0 victory at Brighton.
Danny Drinkwater, Thibaut Courtois, and Gary Cahill face late fitness tests, and respective hamstring and back injuries mean Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata will miss out.
Meanwhile, Eusebio Di Francesco has confirmed Edin Dzeko will start for Roma in tonight’s Serie A clash at Sampdoria, despite rumours of an imminent transfer to Chelsea.
The former Manchester City striker is a target for Conte as he looks to bolster his attack.
Recent reports have suggested a double-deal for Dzeko and left-back Emerson Palmieri is close to a conclusion, but the Giallorossi boss insists the Bosnian forward will lead the line at Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
Di Francesco said: “As things stand at the moment, he will (start). Obviously I’m going to have to assess things and see what frame of mind he’s in. I’ll speak to him about it. As things stand, all the players who are here are available for this hugely important match we have to play in 36 hours’ time.”
Chelsea winger Kenedy has joined Newcastle on loan for the remainder of the season.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved