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Chelsea bid to continue solid start under Conte


Chelsea's Italian head coach Antonio Conte / AFP PHOTO / Justin TALLIS /

Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte / AFP PHOTO / Justin TALLIS /

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte will pit his wits against a familiar face on Saturday as his side travel to face a Watford side coached by fellow Italian Walter Mazzarri.

Conte was recruited by the Stamford Bridge hierarchy partly because of his reputation as a determined and demanding coach, qualities he demonstrated with Italy and Juventus.

The 47-year-old’s animated reaction to Diego Costa’s late winner on Monday in their Premier League opener against West Ham United confirmed that whatever happens during his first season in charge, Conte will lead from the front as he attempts to reverse the decline of last season.

His impact has already been felt, with Costa and Eden Hazard in particular responding positively to the new man’s methods, if that first game is anything to go by.

Centre-back Gary Cahill is clear Conte’s arrival has brought changes in the wake of last season when Jose Mourinho oversaw a disastrous first half of the campaign before Guus Hiddink helped steady the ship.

“He’s added spirit, he’s added organisation and a lot of discipline,” Cahill told the club’s official website.

“Players know exactly what their role should be at each individual time they’re on the pitch.

“He wants to win. You can see how animated he is on the side of the pitch and he’s like that when we’re working. He wants to win, just like the rest of us.”

It will take more than passion, hard work and an energetic celebration or two to steer Chelsea back into title contention although given how badly a league-winning team lost its way last year to finish 10th, creating a new, winning mentality is right up there on Conte’s to-do list.

The manager, though, is also keen to strengthen the squad and hopes to add Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and Everton striker Romelu Lukaku before the end of this month.

Dinamo Zagreb keeper Eduardo also appears to be on his way to west London with the arrival of the Portuguese likely to trigger the departure of Asmir Begovic.

Mazzarri oversaw a creditable opening-day 1-1 draw at Southampton in his first game in charge since being installed as successor to Quique Sanchez Flores.

Like Conte, Mazzarri does not believe his squad is complete and the club is stepping up its efforts to bring in Sunderland centre-back Younes Kaboul and Juventus winger Roberto Pereyra.

Pereyra is believed to be on the brink of signing a five-year deal and the business could even be concluded in time for the Argentina international to face Chelsea.

They will be without Ben Watson, however, after the midfielder was sent off at St Mary’s just 12 minutes after appearing as a substitute.

Isaac Success, the club’s £12.5 million ($16.4m, 14.4m euros) signing from Granada, is again unlikely to feature while he builds up his match fitness.

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