Conte: Exciting challenge
News Sun 18 Feb 2018
After guiding Chelsea to convincing back-to-back victories, Antonio Conte is looking forward to seeing his team take on one of Europe's elite clubs.
During a busy spell in which we compete in three different competitions in the space of nine days, all at Stamford Bridge, the Blues have made the perfect start with big 3-0 and 4-0 wins over West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League and Hull City in the FA Cup respectively.
However, the biggest game is saved for last, as we host Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, and Conte knows his team will have to be at their very best again.
'For sure we are talking about one of the best teams in the world,' said our Italian coach. 'We have to try to have the perfect game and to make the best decisions also for this type of team, because this is a different opponent. They have a fantastic characteristic with the ball. They can have the weakness without the ball and we have to try and exploit this.'
However, rather than any feelings of fear about facing such an opponent, Conte insists this is the kind of big game he and his players relish, along with the chance to show they are deserving of a place among the continent's elite.
'We must have great respect, but at the same time we have to try to be excited to play this type of game,' he said. 'On the one hand, you know that this team is one of the best teams in the world and maybe they are favourites to win this competition. On the other hand, I think that we must be excited, because we have a great opportunity to play a massive game against a really strong team, and to show what is our level.'
Chelsea against Barcelona is of course a fixture steeped in history, with many epic Champions League clashes between the two clubs played out in the past, but our coach does not think any of those previous meetings or his own experiences in the competition with Juventus will have any bearing on Tuesday's match.
'I think that the past is not important. The most important thing is the present. The present is this game and we know very well we have to work very hard to stop this team. This is a new story for me with a new team and I'm very happy to have this type of challenge.'
While that past will not influence our next game, the same cannot be said for our past two matches, with a pair of excellent performances from the Blues giving the side a timely boost ahead of facing Barcelona in arguably the biggest game of our season so far.
'It's very important for the confidence, especially after two bad defeats,' noted Conte. 'Now we can work very hard and very well for the next game. I can tell that from the players that show me great commitment and great behaviour this season and I must be positive. Despite many rotations [against Hull] I had a fantastic answer, especially about players such as Willian, and I think his performance was impressive.'