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Canny Antonio Conte fires Bridge from sighs to all-time Premier League highs


Chelsea manager Antonio Conte celebrates with his players after taking the Premier League title. They will break the record for most victories in a season if they win their last two games. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters
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I had to get changed because my suit is now a disaster,” Antonio Conte explained, pointing out that not even Italian tailoring can survive being thrown bodily into the air then soaked in water, beer and champagne.

It was close to midnight when the Chelsea head coach finally made it into the media suite at The Hawthorns after clinching the Premier League title at his first attempt and it was just as well he had swapped his suit for a club tracksuit, because his players had not finished with him.

Bored of waiting downstairs for the team bus to depart, Diego Costa and David Luiz broke into the press conference after a handful of questions and began manhandling their manager out of the stadium.

This was not a little inconvenient for reporters who had been waiting to ask whether another quick change might be imminent, with an Internazionale blazer apparently ready for the fitting, though Conte was willing to talk about his future in a different room, albeit one where Costa found a fire extinguisher and threatened to set it off unless the boss got a move on. Conte got a move on.

“Yes, I will be here,” was his answer to the next-season question. “We have started to do our work. We have to improve in the next season – we need to find solutions. So far we have worked nine months together, but now the players know my idea and trust in my work, I think we can get better.”

Can Conte be sure he will be working with the same set of players next season, with Eden Hazard coveted in Spain, and Costa thought to be tempted by mega-money on offer elsewhere? “We share the same ambition at this club and for this reason we try to keep the best players,” he said.

“But it is too early to talk of next season. We have the opportunity to win the Double and we must be ready to fight to do this. “We will not be resting; we must work in the training sessions to prepare the next two games against Watford and Sunderland in the right way.”

There were groans from the Brazilian contingent at this, as might be imagined, though Conte is quite right. It would be a mistake to dismiss the remaining two home games as irrelevancies because, by winning them, Chelsea could set a Premier League record for victories in a season.

Chelsea are on 28 with two games to go, and the record is 29, set in 2004-05 – then equalled in 2005-06 – in José Mourinho’s startlingly successful first couple of seasons in England.

Records in themselves mean little,; there is no extra money or kudos on offer, yet what a statement that would be for Conte to make after only working “nine months together”.

Whatever Chelsea think of Mourinho now, he was a force without parallel when he first breezed into Stamford Bridge and for Conte to stand on the verge of matching or bettering his standards is amazing given how unpromising the situation looked at the start.

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