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Sunday 28 May 2017

Conte to build Chelsea empire before his exit

Italian dismisses reports of swift return to homeland and Fabregas insists Blues have character to finish title job

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has dismissed reports linking him with a move back home to Italy
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has dismissed reports linking him with a move back home to Italy
Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas

Antonio Conte has reiterated his commitment to building on his strong first season at Chelsea despite repeated rumours of a return to Italy.

The 47-year-old former Juventus and Italy head coach has been linked with a move to Inter Milan after impressing in his first season in England, which could yet end with a league and cup double.

Conte signed a three-year contract a year ago before taking up his position last July, and is adamant this is just the start of his career at Stamford Bridge.

Conte said: "Now we are fighting hard. We're trying to finish this season by achieving something great and unexpected.

"Then we will certainly try to build something great together."

Asked if that meant next season, Conte said: "Yes, for the next season."

Chelsea lead the Premier League by seven points from Tottenham - their FA Cup semi-final opponents later this month - and need 18 more to mathematically be certain of the title.

Meanwhile, Cesc Fabregas admits Premier League leaders Chelsea have been feeling the pressure, but have the character to finish the season with a flourish.

Chelsea responded to last Saturday's surprise home loss to Crystal Palace with a 2-1 win over Manchester City on Wednesday night.

Tottenham's late rally to win at Swansea meant victory for Antonio Conte's Blues was all the more important as they maintained a seven-point advantage with eight games to play.

Bounce

"It was a massive game and thankfully we won," Fabregas said.

"The result on Saturday put a lot of pressure on us. We know we still have a good advantage, but this is the Premier League and you don't want to be giving points away, especially at home.

"We have character. We can bounce back at anything that comes in front of us.

"It wasn't the most pretty game from us, but it was a very consistent performance.

"We knew what we were doing, we had a game plan and I think it worked perfectly." Conte is working on the assumption Tottenham will win all of their eight remaining games, so Chelsea must claim 18 points, or six wins from their final eight league games. Next the leaders go to Bournemouth on Saturday.

Fabregas added: "We've been saying it since the beginning of the season: it's one game at a time. We have to worry about ourselves, not what the others are doing. As long as we keep winning then we don't have to worry."

Eden Hazard scored twice against City, underlining his importance to the Blues.

The 26-year-old playmaker has been linked with a £100million move to Real Madrid, but insists he is happy at Stamford Bridge.

His Belgium and Chelsea team-mate Thibaut Courtois has also been linked with Real, but reaffirmed his commitment to the Blues.

The goalkeeper said in the London Evening Standard: "Eden is not affected by it. They are just rumours. He is just calm. He knows that he is important to Chelsea, like I do. We are both very happy to be here. This was my 100th game for Chelsea and I hope for many more.

"Eden is one of the best players in the world. Chelsea have ambitions to win the Champions League again and always look to play for the title.

"If you want to do that, you need the biggest players and he is obviously a big part of that."

Diego Costa, meanwhile, will not face retrospective English Football Association action after appearing to kick out at Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany on Wednesday night.

There had been suggestions Costa could miss a chunk of the run-in after appearing to kick out at City defender Kompany, but the striker will not face any sanction.

Referee Mike Dean saw the second-half incident and dealt with it at the time, meaning there will not be any retrospective English FA action.

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