Conte eyes upgrades after troubled spell

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Antonio Conte
Shukriya Pakistan

LONDON: Exasperated by Chelsea’s failure to land his top transfer targets, Antonio Conte hopes Sunday’s clash with Everton is the prelude to a last-minute shopping spree by the Premier League champions.

Since Chelsea won the title last season, Conte has been warning his employers that a host of new signings were required to ensure his team mounted a strong defence of the English crown while also competing in the Champions League.

Last season, Chelsea benefited from their absence from Europe as Conte’s players were rested and rarely injured while they powered to the title in record-setting style.

But Conte knew there was little chance of such good fortune two years in a row and his fears have already been confirmed, with injuries, suspensions and a lack of success in the transfer market combining to create the look of a club in crisis.

A win over title rivals Tottenham Hotspur last weekend was a much-needed morale boost for Conte, but the intense Italian hasn’t let that success dampen his desire for more signings before the transfer window closes on August 31.

Conte has signed only Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko since last term, while even Sunday’s opponents Everton have out-spent the Blues with a £140 million recruitment drive.

The Chelsea boss has been linked with Leicester City midfielder Danny Drinkwater, Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk, Swansea City striker Fernando Llorente and Everton midfielder Ross Barkley.

Landing two or three of those targets would improve Conte’s squad immeasurably and he was quick to underline the point this week when asked about his transfer plans.

“For sure, the club is trying to strengthen our squad, our team, they are working very hard to do this,” Conte said.

“My focus is only on the pitch, then there is the club. The club is working hard and we will see what happens at the end of the transfer market.”

By the time Chelsea return from the international break, they will be pitched into a hectic schedule of seven games in three weeks.

Conte could have Eden Hazard back by then after the Belgian playmaker was called up by his country this week despite not playing for Chelsea this season after an ankle injury.

– Impossible –

But, with or without Hazard, Conte knows his squad will be stretched to its limits.

“We are going to play seven games in a month, and I need to rotate the players. If someone is thinking that I can use only 11 players or 13 players, it’s impossible,” he said.

“I have to rotate these players. But we must be ready. We must be ready to face this situation.”

Diego Costa remains exiled in Brazil after falling out with Conte and Everton manager Ronald Koeman has cheekily suggested he would be willing to take the Chelsea striker on loan.

For now, Koeman will look to Wayne Rooney to lead his attack at Stamford Bridge after the 31-year-old this week announced his retirement from England duty.

Rooney rejected England manager Gareth Southgate’s offer of a return to the squad because he prefers to focus on leading his boyhood club’s challenge for silverware.

Looking revitalised since leaving Manchester United in the close-season, Rooney has scored in Everton’s first two league games and his team head to Chelsea in confident mood after advancing to the Europa League group stage.

Koeman is also encouraged by the form of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford following his move from Sunderland.

“Jordan is still a young goalkeeper and I have been really impressed by what he’s done from day one here,” Koeman said.

“There’s a big future for Everton and a big future for him.”

Chelsea are looking to avoid consecutive home league defeats for the first time since November 2011, but Everton haven’t won at the Bridge for 23 years.

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