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Monday 18 December 2017

Conte ahead of Pep in battle of Premier League's new bosses

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola
Chelsea's Eden Hazard

No matter what way you add up the season to date, Antonio Conte has done a better job of management than Pep Guardiola.

From a standing start, both men had to grapple with squads that under performed in the previous season and Conte is unequivocally the winner in terms of how he has improved his group of players.

By contrast, Guardiola looks a bit like a fish out of water and I've seen some harsh judgements written about him already.

But there is nothing definitive about this assessment. Who knows what will happen in football? Guardiola will need time and some different players to knock Manchester City into the shape he wants and I think Conte inherited a better group.

He also bought N'Golo Kante, the player every manager should have been chasing last summer and pound for pound, the best midfielder in the game at the moment.

What I love about Kante is the fact that he can only be called a midfielder. He defies any attempt to pigeonhole him as a "holding midfielder".

He's just a very good all round midfield player who has the talent and attitude to deal with the challenges playing that position presents.

He seems to be a modest lad and doesn't seek out publicity, something some of the managers could learn from, even Guardiola who has put his foot in mis mouth more than once this season.

He has made some big mistakes and for me surprising ones, both on and off the pitch

His insistence on his goalkeeper playing the ball put from the back is something I will never understand and something which will not work.

I think he has moderated his view on that to some degree in practice but I don't think he has abandoned the idea. Time and the players he buys during the summer will tell us what plans he has but for now, the jury is out.

He has made other mistakes. He blurted out that he was on the road to retirement which made every Manchester City supporter wonder why the club had made such a big investment in a man hyped as the best manager in the world.

Last week he was talking about how fourth place in the Premier League is almost the same as winning a trophy and again, that wasn't the kind of talk I would have expected. It sounds like an excuse and up to now, Guardiola has never had anything to make excuses about.

All he has done with these wayward comments is to bring pressure upon himself and his team and for this game, all the focus should be on Conte and Chelsea.

Nobody expects Manchester City to win this title and I think they have something of a free pass in this game.

The big question for everyone now is whether the last six months represents Chelsea's true nature or whether they will fall apart now that everyone is watching and they've just lost unexpectedly to Crystal Palace.

Of course, Palace's victory simply echoes what Guardiola (pictured) said about the Premier League but I didn't hear Conte moaning about it afterwards.

He doesn't really moan. Even when he talks, he doesn't really say anything and I like that.

If fact, this season has been notable for the absence of a story line around Stamford Bridge other than a relentless series of positive results. What a change and it's all down to an excellent job of management and good players knuckling down. And, of course, no Mourinho. No mystery.

Dignity

It's almost as if Chelsea have been playing in their own league while their rivals scrap among themselves making noise and supplying sub-editors with headlines.

Jose Mourinho can't help doing it but Jurgen Klopp loves the cameras too.

I always wonder whether this is because he never really met fame during an ordinary playing career.

Mourinho had no playing career and I'm convinced that he is filling in the gaps now when he cavorts in front of a camera after a Cup final or title win.

Conte is not averse to living every kick on the touchline but once the game is over, he returns to balance and dignity.

I fully expect Chelsea to come back even harder after that Palace defeat and if I were Guardiola, I would be getting ready for a torrid evening.

I think Conte will have his players at the perfect pitch mainly because they will be desperately disappointed to lose to a poor enough team and that will be motivation enough for them. Unless I am reading the signs very badly, Chelsea are on a mission this season and it won't be completed until they lift the Premier League trophy.

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