Conte's future in doubt as Chelsea face top-four woe
Newcastle (United Kingdom) (AFP)
With Chelsea's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League hanging by a slender thread, the future of their manager Antonio Conte is the main topic of conversation around Stamford Bridge.
Conte has been the subject of constant speculation that his second season with Chelsea could well be his last.
The Italian has feuded with Chelsea's hierarchy over their failure to back his transfer plans last year and has done little to quell the impression he would be willing to leave.
The equation is quite simple ahead of Sunday's final day of the Premier League season; victory for Chelsea at Newcastle and defeat for fourth-placed Liverpool at home to Brighton would secure a Champions League berth for the west Londoners.
A Liverpool draw however would consign fifth-placed Chelsea to the dubious consolation prize of Europa League football.
Conte appears to have all but accepted that is the most likely scenario, but the Blues boss insists the club is still in a better position than when he arrived following a campaign that saw the departure of Jose Mourinho and a lowly position of tenth in 2015-16.
"There are six top teams at the start of the season ready to fight for a place in the Champions League," Conte said.
"Failing to make the Champions League can happen. In the past, it happened the same.
"Don't forget two years ago, Chelsea ended the season 10th and not in the FA Cup final, not in the semi-finals of the League Cup, and they were eliminated in the last 16 against PSG in the Champions League. It can happen.
"Are Chelsea are in a better place now? For sure, we worked two years and worked very hard to try to build something, to create a base.
"I have to work very hard with my players, and it's for other people to see the situation, judge the situation, take the right evaluation after two years of work, and then understand which is now Chelsea's position is in the panoramic of football.
"Now, probably, you can finish fifth and start with a bit of an advantage compared to when you finish 10th."
- Conte speculation -
Despite appearing to write off his side's top-four hopes, Conte will play his best available starting XI at Newcastle and will not consider resting players with the FA Cup final against Manchester United next Saturday in mind.
Conte is adamant that the constant talk over his position at Stamford Bridge has not upset him and has caused no issues for his side on the back of last season's title success.
"I think I'm living with this speculation since the start of this season," he said.
"My only thought is to do my job in the best possible way. This is my only worry. I think the time I start listening to the speculation about me, this is the moment I start to be worried."
Conte expects to have goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois back available after his untimely absence from Wednesday's frustrating 1-1 draw against Huddersfield with a back injury.
Newcastle are a side with little to play for but manager Rafael Benitez, a long-term rival of Conte's especially from their Italy days, will be keen to finish in style after a defeat at Tottenham in midweek.
© 2018 AFP