Antonio Conte looking to PSG as he readies for Chelsea exit

Chelsea coach Antonio Conte smiles prior to the Champions League group C soccer match between Roma and Chelsea, at the Olympic stadium in Rome, Tuesday on October 31, 2017. (File photo by AP)
Updated 02 November 2017

Antonio Conte looking to PSG as he readies for Chelsea exit

LONDON: Antonio Conte is interested in coaching Paris Saint-Germain as he prepares for what is now regarded as an inevitable exit from Chelsea. The man who delivered Chelsea the Premier League title in his first season at the club is aware of PSG's plans to replace Unai Emery before the start of next season and has been informed that he is a candidate for the position.
Conte has told friends that he regrets not leaving Stamford Bridge after his first season in charge of Chelsea's first team and has no intention of extending his stay into a third campaign. The 48-year-old is also conscious that the rift between himself and Chelsea's board is such that a further downturn in results could see him go the way of every other manager to lead the club to the Premier League title and be sacked.
The infamously irascible Italian has been in conflict with his employers for many months now, with his dissatisfaction triggered by a range of complaints over matters including a failure to recruit either the quality or quantity of players Conte deemed necessary to properly challenge for the Champions League and a lack of access to, and support from, owner Roman Abramovich. Crucially, Conte has allowed his relationship with executive director Marina Granovskaia to deteriorate to the point where an accelerated divorce is now considered the most probable outcome.
According to multiple sources, Granovskaia has grown exasperated with Conte’s attempts to impose his will upon player recruitment and other club matters, as well as what has been described as the Italian's “disrespectful behaviour” towards her. Conte’s position has not been aided by a developing resistance amongst his playing staff to an intense training regime that separates physical preparation from technical and tactical work and includes repetitive drills on attacking shape described by some as “boring”.
For his part, Conte has criticised the attitude of elements of his squad, complaining that certain players no longer appear properly focused on their work. His dark mood has not been not helped by an error-strewn start to the campaign in which domestic and European points have been ceded to Burnley, Arsenal, Manchester City, Crystal Palace and AS Roma, culminating in Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the Serie A side during which Conte said his players “lacked everything”.
“We need to have the will – I repeat – to dig deep,” said Conte post-match. “If we think that only because our name is Chelsea, and the opponent have fear of the name Chelsea, this is not the right way. We have to find the hunger we showed all last season and, this season only sometimes. If you are a great team you must have stability. You must have consistency. At this moment we are struggling a lot to find this type of balance.”
Atletico Madrid's failure to defeat Azerbaijani champions FK Qarabag either or home away has left Chelsea in good position to reach the last 16 of Europe's premier club competition despite the midweek loss to Roma. However the London club faces what goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois labelled a “must-win game” against Manchester United this weekend already nine points adrift of leaders Manchester City.
“Conte would like to see if he can get something from the Champions League,” said a source. “He's still trying hard, but it’s like a game of war with the club. If he is sacked he will feel sorry, but not destroyed - because he already knows that the story is over for him with Chelsea.”
PSG are unimpressed with Emery’s handling of record signing Neymar and are preparing to follow up their unprecedented investment in the Brazil international and Kylian Mbappe with the recruitment of a manager who can help secure the club’s first European Cup. Sporting director Antero Henrique is working on a range of candidates, including his former colleague at FC Porto, Jose Mourinho.


Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

Updated 03 August 2020

Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

  • Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining
  • There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play

DUBAI: There may have been no football in Saudi Arabia for five months but the mind games are in full flow as ahead of the crucial top of the table clash in the Saudi Pro League on Wednesday, Al Hilal boss Razvan Lucescu has told Al Nassr coach Rui Vitoria that the pressure is all on him.

In the first game since March when the season was suspended due to coronavirus, Al Nassr in second, six points behind the leaders with eight games to play, can’t afford any slip-ups in the Riyadh Derby if they are to successfully defend the title they won last season.

“We are six points ahead and the opponent is under more pressure as they know they have to reduce the difference,” Lucescu told reporters at the pre-match press conference to the eagerly-awaited Riyadh Derby that will take place with no fans in the King Fahd International Stadium.

That points gap means that the smart money is still on Al Hilal to take league title number 16. Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining.

Not only that but Al Hilal have looked to be in better shape than their challengers in recent warm-up games with a 2-2 draw with second tier side Al-Shoalah following a 4-0 win over Al Riyadh.

“We have been looking forward to this game for a long time,”  Lucescu, who took Al Hilal to the AFC Champions League title in 2019, added. “The league suspension has been long and it has not been easy but we have focused on the mental side of things and aim to return strongly.”

The Romanian has been boosted by the return to fitness of Brazilian star Carlos Eduardo who has recovered from last week’s knock. With the league’s leading goalscorer Bafetimbi Gomis signing a contract extension in July, Lucescu is in a positive frame of mind.

“We know the way they play and we know that it will be a tough game …but everyone is affected by the long pause and we all start at the same level. We are just going to take it step by step and stay focused.”

There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play. The former Porto star will be needed as fellow defenders Omar Hawsawi and Abdullah Madu could miss out through injury.

While Hilal may have the points gap, in terms of the personal battles between the two coaches, Vitoria has the upper hand. The Portuguese boss has yet to lose in three meetings with his Romanian rival in big games in Europe as well as Saudi Arabia.

In a final play-off to reach the group stage of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, Vitoria led Benfica to a 5-2 aggregate victory over PAOK, coached by Lucescu. After a 1-1 draw in Lisbon, the Portuguese powerhouse won 4-1 in Greece.

Earlier this season, Al Nassr inflicted Al Hilal’s only loss in the league this season so far with a 2-1 win at Hilal’s King Saud International Stadium in October with Moroccan forward Abderrazak Hamdallah getting both goals.

A similar result at Al Nassr’s home on Wednesday would breathe new life into the title race. Vitoria has stressed that recent friendly games were a chance to try out tactics and give players a run-out. Losses against Al Raed and Al Fateh however have given the Portuguese boss much to think about.

At the other end of the table.  Al Ittihad are just three places of the bottom of this 16-team league and in danger of the drop. The two-time AFC Champions League winners face a game on Tuesday at mid-table Abha where victory would provide the Jeddah giants with some much-needed breathing space.

The race for third and a place in the 2021 AFC Champions League is also a fierce one. Al Wehda are currently in the driving seat and host Al Shabab while Al Ahli in fourth and just two points behind host the struggling Al Hazem. Al Faisaly, Al-Taawon and Al Raed also have an outside chance of booking a place in next year’s continental competition.

All eyes will, however, be on the top of the table clash as Hilal can take a huge step towards the title. “I am happy with how the players have returned from the suspension and I am confident in  their abilities,”said Lucescu. “All we care about is winning the next match and that will help us win the league.”