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Chelsea boss Antonio Conte dismissed persistent rumours linking him with a move to Inter Milan as his side prepared for a match at West Bromwich Albion on Friday that could give the Blues the Premier League title.

Victory at The Hawthorns will see Chelsea crowned champions in former Italy manager Conte's first season in charge of the London club and leave them halfway to a domestic 'Double' ahead of their FA Cup final against capital rivals Arsenal.

Chelsea are seven points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, another London club, and need just three points from their final three league games this season to be sure of lifting the Premier League trophy.

Yet despite Conte's excellent start at Stamford Bridge, there has been continued speculation he could return to his native Italy.

He has been linked with a move to Inter ever since the Italian giants sacked Stefano Pioli earlier this season.

"I have two years (remaining under) contract with Chelsea," Conte said Thursday. "It's logical when you start the work in a new club the will is to continue to work, to try to improve your work in many years. For sure, this is my will.

"In this moment for me or for my players, the most important thing is to be focused on the moment."

He added: "Now the most important thing is to reach our target. The most important thing is to write the history of the club. It's important now, don't lose the concentration, be focused.

"My players are totally focused on the moment. We mustn't forget that we must take three points to reach this target."

Chelsea announced they had appointed Conte on a three-year contract in April 2016 and he took up his post at Stamford Bridge in July after managing Italy at Euro 2016.

The 47-year-old Conte is now on the verge of winning his fourth domestic title after capturing three successive Serie A crowns with Juventus before moving on to the Italy job.

He is widely credited with reviving Chelsea after the then champions suffered a dramatic slump in form during the 2015/16 that led the Blues, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, to sack Jose Mourinho, now the manager of Manchester United.

Chelsea eventually recovered to finish tenth as 5,000/1 pre-season outsiders Leicester City completed a remarkable title triumph.

- 'Problems' -

"This could be another big, big step for me," Conte said. "In my career I enjoy to have this type of big challenge. I need to have this type of situation where you arrive and you have to work a lot and also to transform the situation in the right way.

"At the start of the season it wasn't easy. We faced a lot of problems and we had to solve a lot of problems.

"When you finish 10th in the league it means that the problem is not only one, but there are a lot of problems. The problem is not only one person.

"I have to say thanks to my players because it's not easy to adapt to a new method, new philosophy and also to work very hard, to change totally your work, if you compare the work this season to the past."

Chelsea beat Middlesbrough on Monday to move seven points clear after Tottenham suffered a major slip-up in losing to West Ham on Friday.

Even if West Brom deny Chelsea victory on Friday, it will likely merely delay the inevitable given the Blues remaining league games are at home to mid-table Watford on Monday and against relegated Sunderland on May 21.

"It's not important where you win, it's important to win," said Conte. "Then you will have the time to celebrate the win where you want.

"Tomorrow's game is the most important game for us. It's a final.

"I like to repeat: this is a good season. We want to become a great season." afp

 

 

Manchester City improved their prospects of Champions League qualification with a 5-0 demolition of Crystal Palace, while Swansea City's 1-0 win over Everton pushed Hull City into the Premier League relegation zone on Saturday.

Frustrated by damaging draws in their previous two games, City got back on track and climbed to third in the table after a stylish display inspired by David Silva's return from injury at Eastlands.

Silva, out for a fortnight after suffering a blow to his knee during the FA Cup semi-final defeat by Arsenal, opened the scoring after two minutes.

Vincent Kompany doubled City's lead in the 49th minute before Kevin De Bruyne's long-range strike made it three 10 minutes later.

Raheem Sterling's cool finish in the 82nd minute was followed by Nicolas Otamendi's diving header in stoppage time as City leapfrogged Liverpool on goal difference.

Chelsea took a significant step towards the Premier League title on Sunday with victory at Everton but Tottenham ensured the champagne will stay on ice for a bit longer with an impressive 2-0 win over Arsenal.

As well as the engrossing fight for the title the battle for the two remaining Champions League places has become a real dogfight -- Arsenal missing a chance to make up ground on the two Manchester clubs, who both stumbled on Sunday against relegation candidates.

Second-half goals by Dele Alli and Harry Kane, from the penalty spot, sealed the three points and ensured that Spurs will finish above their North London rivals Arsenal for the first time in 22 years.

But whether Spurs will ever hunt down relentless Chelsea is another matter, with just four games left and Chelsea still four points clear, and with an easier run-in.

"I am so pleased. It was a very important game and it was a complete performance," Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino told the BBC.

"The race for the title is down to four points and we will see what will happen.

"To be above Arsenal for the first time in 22 years is fantastic for our fans. it is fantastic for us too, but we want to win the title."

A superb second-half strike by Pedro and late goals from Gary Cahill and Willian ended Everton's run of eight successive home wins and had piled the pressure on Spurs, who were playing afterwards.

Chelsea took time to settle but once Pedro scored their opener -- his first goal in nine matches -- the floodgates opened and they ran out 3-0 winners.

"This gives us lots of confidence," manager Antonio Conte told Sky Sports. "Now it is important to prepare the final rush.

"If in the next game against Middlesbrough you don't win, you lose this victory. We must look step by step."

- 'Huge result' -

Cahill's eighth goal of the season and Willian's beautifully worked third inflicted only Everton's second home defeat of the season.

"It was convincing but we had to work hard for it," Cahill told Sky Sports, sensing this might be the win that delivers the title in Conte's first season at Chelsea.

"Pedro's goal was special, at times you need a bit of class to open up a team, that's what he did today. I'm buzzing with that, it's a huge result for us."

City had to come from behind twice to draw 2-2 at Middlesbrough and United drew 1-1 at home to Swansea on a bad day for the Manchester giants.

City relied on 20-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus to secure them a point in the final five minutes of their game against a Boro side scenting back-to-back wins in the Premier League for the first time since May 2008.

"We controlled the game and missed so many chances," Jesus told Premier League Productions.

"Today's result is disappointing but at least we have a point."

Arsenal's defeat in the last North London derby at White Hart Lane leaves manager Arsene Wenger's proud record of qualifying for the Champions League in real trouble.

They are sixth, five points behind United and six behind City in fourth, although the Londoners have a game in hand on both.

Only the top four get into the Champions League.

 

 

The doctor who gave athletics great Mo Farah a controversial supplement is to appear before British lawmakers on Wednesday as part of an ongoing inquiry into doping in sport.

Dr Robin Chakraverty, formerly of UK Athletics, is to give evidence to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) committee that has previously unearthed damaging details about the approach to drug rules of senior figures in British Cycling.

Chakraverty, now working with the England football team, gave Farah an intravenous infusion of L-carnitine before the distance runner's 2014 London Marathon debut.

L-carnitine is a naturally occurring compound which turns body fat into energy and can be found in animal products such as meat, fish and milk.

Athletes are allowed to take it provided it is not infused in a quantity greater than 50 millilitres every six hours.

 

Arsene Wenger has insisted his Arsenal players have the character to halt a run of four successive away defeats when they visit Middlesbrough as they look to revive their bid to finish in the Premier League’s top four.

Wenger’s team could be at 10 points off a place among the leading quartet by the time they kick-off at strugglers Middlesbrough on Monday if Liverpool win away to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.

But whatever the outcome of that match, Arsenal know they need a dramatic improvement if they are to qualify for the Champions League for a 21st successive season.

The dismal 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace last time out highlighted how far the team has fallen since the period before Christmas when they were viewed as genuine challengers for the Premier League title.

Theo Walcott’s admission after that loss at Selhurst Park that Palace “wanted it more” reflected badly on a group of players who have lost their way and strengthened the belief of all those who believe veteran French manager Wenger should leave Arsenal when his contract expires art the end of the season.

 

Mesut Ozil wants Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's future to be cleared up before he commits himself to the club, the Germany playmaker indicated in a newspaper interview published on Sunday.

Wenger, Arsenal's manager for over 20 years, is out of contract at the end of the season and has pledged to make an announcement about his future "very soon".

Ozil is currently stalling over a new contract, with his existing deal due to expire in a year, and suggested he will not make a decision on his future until he knows what Wenger is doing.

"It's not just important for me, but for the whole club," Ozil told the Mail on Sunday. "It's important to know if he stays or if he goes. We need to think towards next season.

 

 

Beleaguered Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has decided to stay at the club, according to British media reports on Monday.

The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mirror said Wenger will inform Arsenal's board he wants to extend his contract, which expires at the end of the season.

West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis also said Wenger told him he intended to stay on after Arsenal's 3-1 defeat at The Hawthorns on Saturday.

"I'll be surprised if he goes," Pulis told reporters after Saturday's game, as revealed in Monday's newspapers.

Asked why he thought Wenger would stay, Pulis replied: "Because he told me."

 

 

Liverpool punished Arsene Wenger’s selection gamble with a crucial 3-1 win over spluttering Arsenal, while Manchester United star Zlatan Ibrahimovic could face disciplinary action after appearing to elbow Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings in a fiery 1-1 draw on Saturday.

Wenger sprang a major surprise by leaving Alexis Sanchez on the bench and the Chile forward was badly missed as Arsenal were blown away in the first half at Anfield.

With Mesut Ozil also absent, due to illness, Arsenal were ill-equipped to match Jurgen Klopp’s fired-up side, who took the lead in the ninth minute when Roberto Firmino met Sadio Mane’s cross with a cool finish at the far post after sloppy Arsenal defending.

 

 

Jose Mourinho has challenged his Manchester United stars to use their dramatic League Cup final win against Southampton as a springboard to bigger prizes.

Mourinho lifted the first major trophy of his United reign on Sunday after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late header clinched a 3-2 victory at Wembley.

The 54-year-old is the first United manager to win a major competition in his maiden season at Old Trafford and the 19th trophy of his glittering career made him only the third boss, after Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough, to enjoy four League Cup triumphs.

Now Mourinho wants his players to learn from the winning feeling as they chase FA Cup and Europa League titles this term, and ideally Premier League and Champions League glory next season.

“The reality is that we want more: my contract is long, I have two more years with this one, so hopefully I can win more,” Mourinho said.

“This season I know it’s difficult, but the reality is we have to try to fight for more.”

 

 

Despite harbouring some reservations about his hairstyle, Lawrie McMenemy knows Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the man his old club Southampton must stop in Sunday’s League Cup final against Manchester United.

As Southampton manager, McMenemy led the south-coast club to their greatest success when they produced a huge upset to beat United 1-0 in the 1976 FA Cup final.

Forty-one years on, they are back at Wembley this weekend and McMenemy says the pony-tailed Ibrahimovic, 24 goals and counting in his maiden United season, could prove the difference.

“I’m not sure about his haircut. If you were a centre-half, you’d want to sneak a pair of scissors on. Maybe that could weaken him!” he told AFP in a telephone interview from his home in Hampshire, southern England on Wednesday.

“But he’s proved to be a fantastic player and he looks like he’s a character. He will lap it up, the big stage. You’ve got to watch him.