Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has defended under fire manager Antonio Conte, offering a reminder that it was the Italian who led Chelsea to the Premier League title just nine months ago. Winning 30 of their 38 league games last season, the Blues stormed to a sixth Premier League title under Conte, who only joined the club the previous summer after leaving his post as Italy manager. Chelsea have failed to reach those heights during the current campaign, however, and have fallen 19 points adrift of leaders Manchester City after losing their last two games.
Conte’s job appears to be on the brink after Monday’s 4-1 thumping at the hands of Watford, with the Chelsea board reportedly lining up Luis Enrique as the Italian’s replacement. But Valverde, whose Barcelona side will face Chelsea in the last-16 of the Champions League later in the month, has highlighted Conte’s achievements since arriving in England. ‘Chelsea’s head coach is the one who led them to win the Premier League title last year, he’s won many titles, and he’s had a great career,’ Valverde said.
Asked about the speculation linking former Barca manager Enrique with the Chelsea job, Valverde added: ‘You are making a big prediction, because at the moment nothing has happened. ‘Do you want me to tell you what’s going to happen in the future? Or about your prediction? At the moment there is no changes so far.’ Conte enjoyed fantastic success in his first season in England but needs to take a leaf out of Jose Mourinho’s book to save his job at Stamford Bridge, according to Paul Ince. ‘The arguments Conte is having with the board, essentially telling them to sack him if they aren’t happy with the job he’s doing, will have a detrimental effect on the players – whether he’s right or not,’ Ince said.
‘When you join Chelsea, you know exactly what you’re letting yourself in for, in terms of the owner and his team – it’s ruthless. ‘Conte won’t like this, but he needs to take a leaf out of Mourinho’s book and turn the focus of discussions back onto football.’ With 12 games of the season remaining, Chelsea are fourth – just one point above fifth-placed Tottenham. The Blues face Alan Pardew’s struggling West Brom on Monday night.