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Wednesday 28 September 2016

Conte glad of no Euro ties

Chelsea boss fully-focused on Premier title

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte

Antonio Conte aims to take advantage of Chelsea's Champions League absence to sharpen their Premier League title challenge.

The Blues finished 10th last term, a hugely disappointing campaign that cost Jose Mourinho his job in December and represented a lacklustre and unsuccessful title defence.

Guus Hiddink steadied the ship with a calm caretaker stint, allowing Chelsea to recruit Conte on completion of his Euro 2016 duties managing Italy.

Conte exploited Juventus' lack of Champions League football to swipe the Serie A title in his first season managing the Italian giants in 2011-12, and is already eyeing a repeat in west London.

"Not playing in the Champions League could be an opportunity because I will be able to work more with my players," Conte said.

"If you ask me if I prefer this situation, I don't because Chelsea must be in this competition. You do feel like you're missing something when you're not involved in the Champions League. It is a special competition and you want to play in it every year.

"But because we are not, I will have a whole week to train with my players and that gives me a chance to work with them more compared to Chelsea managers in previous seasons."

Former Juventus midfielder Conte won 20 Italy caps between 1994 and 2000, before later leading the same club to three Serie A titles as manager.

Meanwhile, Schalke are closing in on completing the season-long loan signing of Chelsea defender Baba Rahman. The Ghana full-back has met up with the Schalke squad for pre-season training, ahead of finalising the formalities on his loan switch from Stamford Bridge.

Schalke confirmed Rahman's presence, tweeting on their official club feed: "Abdul Rahman #Baba is travelling with the #Schalke squad to the training camp."

Rahman made 23 appearances for Chelsea last term, but has been deemed surplus to immediate requirements by new boss Antonio Conte.

The 22-year-old only joined Chelsea last summer on a five-year deal from Augsburg, and deputised regularly for Cesar Azpilicueta last term.

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