Chelsea players back under-fire Antonio Conte after woeful result at Watford

Chelsea players are right behind Antonio Conte as the pressure mounted on the under-fire coach. (AP)
Updated 06 February 2018

Chelsea players back under-fire Antonio Conte after woeful result at Watford

LONDON: Chelsea players are right behind Antonio Conte as the pressure mounted on the under-fire coach.
At the time of going to press the Italian was still the boss at Stamford Bridge. But following Monday night’s shock 4-1 defeat at Watford, speculation is mounting over just how long Conte can stay in charge of a side that has struggled for form all season following last year’s dominant march to the title.
The loss at Watford followed another surprise reverse, this time at home with a 3-0 defeat to Bournemouth. Those results came on the back of an indifferent start to 2018 amid rumors that Conte has been unhappy at the club.
But while the situation was yet to be resolved Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said Conte had the backing of the dressing room.
“We believe in the manager and we believe in our team. We have two bad results and we just try to get back, regroup and just continue,” the Belgian said.
“We showed that we wanted to fight even with 10 men and that shows we have character, but when you lose twice like that it is not good and there are questions raised, but we go back to training with the manager, and training well and turn this situation around.
“We have to work hard again and hope that the victories come because it was a bad week.”

At 70.3 percent, Antonio Conte has the joint-best win rate of any manager in Premier League history, level with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

The Chelsea stopper was backed up by skipper Gary Cahill, who said: “The manager has done an absolutely unbelievable job; the players have to take the responsibility.”
For Conte the ball was very much in Cheslea’s court. After the Watford match the Italian said he was still in charge and working to finish the season on
a high.
“Tomorrow is another day. I can be the Chelsea coach or not, what is the problem?” said Conte. “I go to sleep without a problem.
“I try to do everything and, if this is enough OK, otherwise the club take a different decision. The life goes on.”
Defeat leaves Chelsea lagging in fourth and just a point ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the battle for the top four.
Conte has repeatedly complained throughout the campaign at his lack of input toward the club’s recruitment strategy.
Once more the Italian lined up without a recognized striker at Vicarage Road, with Alvaro Morata sidelined by injury and new-signing Olivier Giroud deemed fit enough only for a place on the bench.
However, Conte also delivered a stinging criticism to his players, saying they “played with fear.”
“I try to continue to work to try to improve different aspects of my players, but today I think our performance was very poor,” Conte said.
“For sure I have to take the responsibility because maybe I made the wrong decision for the starting XI.
“To play football in a big club, it means you must have personality. It is simple to play when there is the confidence. In this type of moment you can see who is (made) for a great club, to play with personality to risk something.”

Arab News runs the rule over Antonio Conte’s possible replacements should the Italian get his marching orders…
LUIS ENRIQUE: The favorite to take the poisoned chalice should Conte get the axe. The former Barcelona boss is free having taken a sabbatical (lucky man…) and with a CV that includes a Champions League win and two league and cup doubles, he has just the sort of pedigree the Blues board salivate over.
BRENDAN RODGERS: This is not as far-fetched as you may be thinking. At Celtic the Northern Irishman has repaired much of the (unfair) damage to his reputation following his sacking by Liverpool and having worked at Chelsea before, he is well aware of the backroom machinations that have seemingly troubled Conte this season.
GUUS HIDDINK: Been there, seen it, done it — that is the tale when it comes to the Dutchman and Chelsea. Has had two interim stints at Stamford Bridge before (he won the FA Cup in 2009 following Luiz Felipe Scolari’s sacking) and it is easy to see why Roman Abromovich might turn to his friend once more. If the Blues went for a caretaker boss until the summer, then Hiddink will likely be their man.
DIEGO SIMEONE: For the past three seasons at least Simeone has been linked with every big European club job going. The Argentine, however, has done that very rare thing in football and shown remarkable loyalty to current employers Atletico Madrid. While he has just signed a two-year contract extension he may well think now is the time to leave the Spanish capital if Chelsea come calling.
MARCO SILVA: Three months ago the Portuguese was the hottest young coach in the world. Time moves pretty quickly in football and since then he has been sacked by Watford — an approach from Everton seemingly taking his mind off the job and causing the slump which saw him axed. Abramovich has a history with young, highly rated coaches from Portugal — could he employ another?

Sun could set on Hyderabad while Knight Riders are the ones to watch as the IPL enters the final sprint for glory

Updated 22 May 2018

Sun could set on Hyderabad while Knight Riders are the ones to watch as the IPL enters the final sprint for glory

  • IPL down to four teams as cash-rich circus nears its climax.
  • Knight Riders coming into form at just the right time.

In our preview, we had tipped Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings for the playoffs, while mentioning that Rajasthan Royals would be the dark horses. But after a topsy-turvy season that saw Mumbai Indians, the holders knocked out, and the seventh-placed side finish within a win of the playoffs, it is time to run the rule again over the four teams that have made it to the final week.


Recent form: WWLLL

Given a choice, you would not go into the business end of a tournament on the back of three straight defeats. Hyderabad lost some intensity after sealing their playoff spot, even as Kane Williamson, captain extraordinaire, continued to bat like a dream. Their bowlers, so miserly earlier in the tournament, have taken some punishment in the past fortnight, and their hopes of repeating the triumph of 2016 will depend largely on some key players finding form. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has had a disappointing season, and there has been scant batting support for Williamson and Shikhar Dhawan. Rashid Khan and Siddharth Kaul, whose performances have earned an India call-up, have led the bowling, and while Shakib Al-Hasan has been disciplined, he needs to do far more with bat in hand.


Recent form: WLWLW

They could play only one game at their Chepauk fortress before opportunistic Cauvery-water-related protests forced them to shift their home base to Pune. Only one of their bowlers, Shardul Thakur, features in the top 20 wicket-takers list, and he has conceded nearly nine an over. But despite the hardships, Chennai have again made the playoffs, for the ninth time in nine seasons (they were banned for the 2016 and 2017 editions). MS Dhoni’s renaissance with the bat has garnered the headlines, but around him, Ambati Rayudu has made 586 runs and Shane Watson 438. Even a largely out-of-sorts Suresh Raina has managed 391. Dwayne Bravo’s death-overs bowling has gone from strength to concern, but the raw pace of Lungi Ngidi — nine wickets at an outstanding economy rate of 6.11 — has given Chennai a thrilling option that Dhoni will doubtless use wisely. It’s hard to see past them in a high-pressure game.


Recent form: LLWWW

The city that was ruled by the Left Front for nearly four decades has got through because of the strength of the collective. That is not to say individual brilliance has been absent. Sunil Narine, despite the murmurs over his action, leads the Most Valuable Player race with 327 runs (strike-rate of 189) and 16 wickets. Andre Russell has shown his prowess with both bat and ball, while Dinesh Karthik, who took over as captain this season, has shown Zen-master calm to guide the team home in chases. Six of the batsmen have scored more than 250 runs, and young Prasidh Krishna — discovered through the Karnataka Premier League — has given them a potent pace option. If they can coax a couple of big performances from Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla, the wrist spinners who have had underwhelming seasons, they are a good long shot to land a third title.


Recent form: WWWLW

The power-packed batting of Jos Buttler helped transform their season, but it also led to an unexpected Test call-up that has deprived the Royals of one of their trump cards. Ben Stokes, who had a poor season with the bat and an average one with the ball, has also gone, leaving the onus very much on the Indian contingent. Ajinkya Rahane’s batting has been mediocre, but he has led brilliantly, coaxing some terrific displays from fringe spinners like Shreyas Gopal and K Gowtham. Jofra Archer’s pace and white-ball nous has allowed them to overcome the poor bowling form of Jaidev Unadkat and Dhawal Kulkarni. But Sanju Samson, who has gone off the boil after a great start, and Rahul Tripathi will need to bat out of their skins to replicate the Buttler heroics that turned around a miserable 3-6 start. Despite being the form side, the suspicion persists that they’re a marquee player or two short.