Antonio Conte said that Chelsea must have “great admiration” for what Manchester City are doing this season, adding that Pep Guardiola’s team appear “unstoppable” on current form.
Following a 3-0 rout of Arsenal away from home on Thursday, City go into Sunday’s clash with Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium leading the Premier League by 16 points and enjoy a 22-point advantage over the reigning champions, who face a fight to finish in the top four after losing 2-1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford last Sunday.
Chelsea’s situation means Conte would welcome a repeat of the dramatic 3-1 victory secured in last season’s corresponding fixture, but he admitted that it is hard to see a weakness to be exploited in City.
“Manchester City was always a fantastic team, but after one season the manager tried to improve the quality of the starting XI, to improve the quality in his squad, and this is the result,” Conte said.
“I think we must have great admiration for this team, because they are having a fantastic path in this season. Sometimes it’s very difficult to find a weakness in this team. When you work very well and there is great feeling between the manager and the club, you can work in the way you want.
“In this moment, to see an advantage against a team like Manchester City is very difficult. But at the same time we have to prepare the game in the right way and hope to have all the players in good form and try to fight for a good result. For sure in this moment they seem unstoppable.”
Conte said last month that Chelsea cannot compete financially with United or City, and private tensions with the Blues hierarchy over transfer policy dating back to last summer have manifested themselves in a series of pointed public comments, leading to the expectation that he will leave at the end of the season.
Asked if he can see City getting even better in the future, Conte said: “For sure, because they have the possibility to spend money and improve the quality of the starting XI and the quality of the squad.
“When you link these two situations — a good manager and much money to spend in the transfer market — and have the same ambition, this is the final result.
“In this league — not only for this league, but for the other teams — they have to pay attention to Manchester City. They are a fantastic reality. When there is confidence and money to spend, one plus one is two, eh? Not three, four or five.”
Chelsea’s outlook heading into this summer is considerably less rosy. In addition to the uncertainty surrounding Conte, key players Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois are also attracting interest from Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain as the club attempt to tie them to new long-term contracts.
Conte, however, would not be drawn on whether a top-four finish will be the limit of Chelsea’s ambition for the foreseeable future.
“This is not a question for me,” he said. “A club has to show ambition, not the coach. The coach has to work very hard every day.”
Tiemoue Bakayoko and David Luiz remain unavailable for the City trip due to injury, while youngster Ethan Ampadu is also unavailable. Ross Barkley has recovered sufficiently from a hamstring injury to travel to Manchester, though Conte has not yet decided whether he will make the substitutes’ bench.