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?

Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

Updated 23 January 2019

Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

  • Can the mighty minnows continue impressive run in the UAE?
  • Or will the big guns start to fire in quarterfinals?

LONDON: Asia’s biggest sporting spectacle has reached its quarterfinal stage — and it’s time for teams to find their A-game. While there are few surprises in the last-eight lineup, the form of some of the big-name sides has been less than impressive. Here we deliver our verdict on the second round.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT — Saudi Arabia’s attack

The Green Falcons started the tournament at top speed. They came in as one of the cup favorites and in their opening two matches illustrated why. A 4-0 thrashing of North Korea was backed up with a relatively simple 2-0 victory over Lebanon. Understandably, that raised hopes that Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men could go all the way in the UAE. Alas, it was not to be as a 2-0 defeat to Qatar in their last group clash left them with a tricky tie against Japan. For all their efforts Saudi Arabia were unable to find the back of the net, the lack of firepower upfront costing Pizzi’s team yet again.

BIGGEST SHOCK — South Korean sloppiness

Boosted by the arrival of Tottenham star Son Heung-Min, South Korea were rightly declared the pre-tournament favorites. They had firepower up front, intelligence and creativity in midfield, and experience at the back. In the four matches in the UAE so far, however, they have looked anything but potential champions. They labored to beat Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines and China in the group stage before almost being shocked by part-timers Bahrain in the second round. South Korea now face Qatar in the last eight and, as Son said after their extra-time win over Bahrain, they need to significantly improve if they are to avoid a shock exit before the semis.

UNDER PRESSURE — Alberto Zaccheroni and the UAE

The Whites owe their place in the last eight to luck more than skill. In some ways that is not a surprise — the hosts came into the tournament without their talisman, the injured Omar Abdulrahman, and on the back of a patchy run of form. But, still, the performances on home soil have been underwhelming to say the least. That was summed up with their extra-time win over Kyrgyzstan, who were playing in their first Asian Cup. It was a far-from-convincing performance and Central Asians were unlucky not to beat Zaccheroni’s side. The UAE will have to deliver their best performance for some time if they are to progress further. Their opponents, Australia, have also performed poorly, which may offer them some encouragement.

BEST HIGHLIGHT — The mighty minnows

The big guns have not had it all their own way. That may annoy their fans, but it does show that Asian football is improving. Only a few years ago the idea that Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain and Jordan would look the equals of Australia and Co. would have seemed fanciful. But in the past two weeks the standard shown by the so-called lesser lights has been impressive — and great to watch. Last summer five Asian teams appeared at the World Cup for the first time and it was hoped that showing would act as a springboard for further progress across the continent. On the evidence of the action in the UAE that wish could be coming true.