With just three points required from their final three games to wrap up the title, Chelsea travel to the Hawthorns on Friday night in the hope of getting their job done at the earliest possible opportunity. West Brom are the team tasked with keeping Tottenham’s faint title hopes alive, a side who have taken two points from the past 18 available and one whose players have been building sandcastles, lying around on beach towels, sipping margaritas and generally gadding about in the foamy surf since securing Premier League safety back in mid-March. Never mind, Spurs … there’s always next season. When you’re playing all your home games at Wemb … oh.
But football being football, every silver lining tends to come with a dark, grey cloud attached, and speculation abounds that Chelsea could become victims of their own manager’s spectacular maiden season in England. With his natty bespoke suits, natty bespoke hair and natty bespoke line of technical area gesticulation that is furious even by the standards of The Fiver’s laziest Italian stereotypes, Conte has been attracting admiring glances from his native Italy. Inter have subtly let it be known they’d quite like to employ him by sacking their own manager, whispering sweet nothings about massive salaries, linking themselves with various players Conte couldn’t attract to Chelsea and flying an airplane trailing a giant banner reading “Hey Antonio Conte, please, please, please, please come and manage us!” repeatedly over his house. While Chelsea may well match any offer they make for him, with his wife and daughter still living in Italy there is a genuine concern among Chelsea fans he might jump at the chance to return there.
“I have a contract for another two years with Chelsea but, for me and my players, the important thing is to be focused on the present,” Conte said, when asked about the speculation over his future. “This moment is very important. The future is not important for any single person: me or the players. It’s normal to have a lot of speculation around players and coaches, so it’s important not to lose the concentration and be focused as we try to reach this fantastic target.” Presuming Chelsea do reach this fantastic goal, Conte should be very proud of his fantastic achievement, one that will become even more fantastic if they double up with a win in the FA Cup final against Arsenal later this month. Of course the cherry on top for the rest of us will come when his celebrations are hijacked by a certain Manchester United manager, who almost certainly point out that Conte achieved his success with somebody else’s team.
BITS AND BOBS
Manchester United boss José Mourinho thinks the club’s board would not view the season as a failure even if they lose to Ajax in the final of Big Vase. “We won a [Milk] Cup. We won a Community Shield. Until the [knack] arrived, we fought for the Premier League top four,” he roared, high on the open-goal-at-the-death blunder that secured a 2-1 aggregate win over the 12th-placed team in La Liga. “We did things in this club that nobody did in the first season.”
‘I still can’t believe they axed Hatchet Man, the column that goes in hardest. He went in so hard, too.’ Photograph: Dave Thompson/AP
Headwear salesman and part-time Liverpool forward Daniel Sturridge looks like returning at West Ham, because Roberto Firmino is knacked. “Daniel is a wonderful option to have but it is all about being fit or not,” honked Jürgen Klopp. “It is not the name we bring on the pitch, it is the player, the human being.”
Clubs in League One and League Two have voted 2:1 in favour of retaining Premier League youth sides in the farce that is the Checkatrade Trophy.
Birmingham City Ladies are hoping to stick it to the moneybags of Manchester City in Saturday’s FA Women’s Cup final. “In terms of our infrastructure, the quality of our players and the pedigree we have, it’s probably less of a difference than the accounting books [aargh – Fiver Ed] suggest,” cheered general manager Heather Cowan.
’Arry Redknapp has inked a one-year stay with Birmingham’s men’s team. “Just days after memorably guiding Blues to Championship safety, Redknapp has now committed again to the club,” over-egged a club statement.
And Cardiff Met University head to Bangor on Saturday, just 90 minutes from a remarkable place in next season’s Big Vase. “We are fortunate that a lot of the boys have started doing Masters degrees and have stayed with us,” tooted Professor Robyn Jones. Nerds!
STILL WANT MORE?
Arsenal crawling back into the top four race, Spurs saying farewell to White Hart Lane and two titanic Championship play-offs – plus much more to look out for this weekend.
The weekend starts here. So onwards and upwards, then. Composite: Getty Images, PA
Is Luka Modric the best all-round midfielder in the world? Barney Ronay thinks so, and here’s why.
Hot-shot rookie Jaap Stam and grizzled veteran Andries Ulderink formed quite the partnership at Ajax’s under-21 team – now they’re three games from taking Reading back to the Premier League, writes Ben Fisher.
If Alexis Sánchez leaves Arsenal, Arsène Wenger wants Álvaro Morata to replace him. The Spanish striker would rather go to Chelsea, but they would prefer Romelu Lukaku – providing Antonio Conte doesn’t scarper. Get up to speed with Friday’s Rumour Mill.