Sunday 17 December 2017

Pep - Conte my big rival

Guardiola identified his Chelsea counterpart as a coach of great potential

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has been impressed by Chelsea boss Antonio Conte ahead of their Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has been impressed by Chelsea boss Antonio Conte ahead of their Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow

Pep Guardiola has identified Chelsea as one of his greatest threats to Manchester City's Premier League title ambitions.

The City boss goes head-to-head with Antonio Conte tomorrow in an early title clash.

Guardiola admits the Italian's Premier League leaders are the team to beat this term after recording seven straight wins.

But their rise to the top of the table has come as no surprise, with the Catalan predicting Chelsea would be one of the title favourites - despite ending last season in a lowly 10th place and 31 points behind champions Leicester.

Despite Jose Mourinho taking over at Manchester United and the threats of Arsene Wenger and Mauricio Pochettino at Arsenal and Tottenham respectively - Chelsea were the team Guardiola singled out.


His biographer Marti Perarnau writes in his book Pep Guardiola: The Evolution how the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach acknowledged a similarity between himself and Conte.

"I remember asking him in 2015 to name two coaches with the greatest potential and, without a second's hesitation, he said, 'Tuchel and Conte,'" writes Perarnau.

"He sees a lot of himself in Conte: his passion, his aggression, work ethic and determination to have the ball as much as possible, the intensity of his game and his competitive drive.

"'Conte plays positional football too. It's very different from my own, but it's a game of position and he does it very, very well.'"

Tomorrow's lunchtime kick-off at the Etihad Stadium will say much of each side's title credentials, with Guardiola describing Chelsea as 'amazing' in recent days. Perarnau adds: "In private, Pep's gone as far as identifying Chelsea as one of the favourites to win the league this year.

"The team has a superb coach, excellent players, and a preferential calendar without any European competition and therefore lots and lots of time to concentrate on training and preparation for each game.

"He may well be proven wrong, but before the league kicked off Pep certainly saw Conte as one of his biggest threats."

Guardiola at least has a full week to prepare for Chelsea, which is the start of a daunting fixture list in December.

As well as the Londoners, City will also face title rivals Arsenal and Liverpool, along with reigning champions Leicester.

City are currently a point behind Chelsea - but after securing qualification to the knockout stages in the Champions League they can now focus on their title challenge until February.

Meanwhile, Raheem Sterling could be back for City's clash with Chelsea after returning to training following a knee injury.

The England international had to be substituted when hurt during Saturday's 2-1 win against Burnley - sparking concerns he would miss the game against Conte's Premier League leaders. But he has taken part in training this week, raising hopes he will be ready to start the lunchtime kick off.

Chelsea go into the game on the back of seven straight wins in the league and a point clear of Liverpool and City.

During that run they've conceded just once - in last weekend's 2-1 win against Tottenham.

City have drawn their last three games at home in the league.

Sterling's expected return means Guardiola has close to a fully fit squad - with Vincent Kompany the major absence through injury.

Fabian Delph has also returned to training following a groin operation.


Meanwhile, Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois insists the clash with City will not define their season and the games against lesser teams will be more significant.

"We are taking it match by match. It's quite hard to keep a run going in this league but after the couple of matches we lost we have won seven in a row which is very good," Courtois said.

Chelsea, who finished 10th last season, have scored 19 goals and conceded one during their winning streak.

"Now we are going to Man City to try and get another result, and then after it the next away games are at Sunderland and Crystal Palace, and it is games like those that decide if you are going to be champions or not," Courtois added.

"You can win big matches even if you're not having a good season."

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