Conte warns Chelsea team: The league isn’t finished yet

Joe Williams

Antonio Conte says Chelsea must be on high alert and be wary of the dangers of the Premier League title run-in.

Chelsea lead by nine points from second-placed Tottenham and Saturday’s opponents Arsenal, who are behind Spurs on goal difference.

But Conte, a multiple Serie A winner as player and manager with Juventus, said: “Anything can happen. It’s important to keep the antenna very high.

“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.”

Conte watched Manchester City’s 4-0 win at West Ham on Wednesday, which highlighted the quality of those chasing Chelsea.

The Italian added: “We all know the real potential of Manchester City.”

Chelsea lost 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, a defeat which prompted a change of formation to 3-4-3 and a 13-game winning run in the Premier League followed.

The Blues have 15 wins in 17 league games since, the January 4 loss at Spurs and Tuesday’s draw at Liverpool the exceptions.

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

“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 (it is) 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.”

Chelsea’s lead would be 11 points had Diego Costa converted a penalty at Anfield.

The striker, who has scored 15 times this season, was once again linked with a mega-money move to China on Friday, with reports in Spain suggesting that the 28-year-old will move at the end of the season.

Conte insisted Costa is focused on the present, but would not look beyond the end of the current season.

“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 (away). It’s important to think to the present.”

City led Chelsea by eight points after six games following the Blues’ losses to Liverpool and Arsenal in September. Now Pep Guardiola’s men are 10 points behind Conte’s side.

“The situation can change very quickly,” he said.

“In that moment City had seven (sic) points more than Chelsea.

“After 20 games, or 18 games, the situation changed.

“There are 15 games (left) and we must pay great attention to reply to Pep.”

Conte described the loss at Arsenal as “a surprise”. He reacted to Chelsea’s first-half implosion at the Emirates Stadium by changing formation.

The Italian added: “To change your system during the game means you have this change (in) your mind.”

He also described Arsenal’s loss to Watford on Tuesday as a “strange result”, saying: “I think they are in good shape, in good form.”

The former Italy manager, who has no injury concerns, admitted Chelsea tried to sign Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon last month to allow Asmir Begovic to move to Bournemouth.

“We tried, but when the club told us it was not possible, that he was not for sale, it finished,” said Conte, who insisted he had not spoken to Chelsea about Celtic striker Moussa Dembele.

Chelsea’s record goalscorer Frank Lampard announced his retirement on Thursday and was at the club’s Cobham training ground on Friday.

Conte saw the 38-year-old as the head coach ran around the playing fields.

He said: “I told him ‘hello’. I was running to keep me in form and he was here.”

On the possibility of Lampard moving into coaching, the 47-year-old said: “I don’t know his thoughts.”