Head-To-Head: Antonio Conte vs Pep Guardiolaby Chloe Beresford / 28 September 2017, 12:17Tweet
“I have a longing for Italy, that’s beyond any doubt,” Chelsea boss Antonio Conte told Radio Anch’io Sport last week. It’s not in my head to stay abroad for too long. It’s good to have beautiful experiences, but I intend to go back to Italy one day.”
It was perhaps an odd statement for a man that had left Juventus - by far the most successful Italian side in recent years - in order to Coach the National side, using his experience as a stepping stone to England and the Premier League.
Since his arrival at Stamford Bridge at the beginning of last season, the 48-year-old has often made noises about his desire to move back to his home country, and this apparent homesickness couldn’t be more different to his opponent on Saturday.
The Blues host a newly rampant Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, a man whose ruthless ambition has seen him compete at the highest level in Spain, Germany and now in England. But what does the Catalan think of the man who beat him to the title by 15 points last term?
"My opinion about my colleague Conte is that he's superb, maybe he's the best," the Catalan boss told Goal.com before the two sides faced each other last season.
"He was able to make Italy play beautiful football, Juventus too, in a culture where it's so defensive. He's an excellent manager, I learn a lot when I see his teams - Juventus, Italy and now. I like to do that because you see what they want to do. Their teams control a lot of aspects. It's a good lesson for me to see his teams and learn."
There are two key words in the former Barcelona man’s statement here. “Control” is the first, something that the Italian boss thrives upon. We saw during his time with Juventus and Italy that he ruled over his sides with an iron fist, demanding the highest level of work-rate and commitment from his players from the very outset. This approach - along with tactical organisation consistent with having played and managed in Italy - will bring quick results, but is it a case of the hare and the tortoise?
The methods of two-time Champions League winner Guardiola of course take time to introduce, in addition to how long it has taken to build a squad that perfectly suits his signature possession-based style. Now it is starting to pay off as City remain three points clear of Chelsea in the table, with the Manchester club showing no signs of letting up. Maybe Conte was aware of the extra threat that would be posed this season once his rivals began to click when he made typically bullish remarks to the press.
“I think this season it is very important to understand that it is not always about who spends more money who wins,” he said to ESPN back in April. “Otherwise, in this league, this season the name of the [top] team would not be Chelsea or Tottenham, or Arsenal or Liverpool. You understand?” The Manchester City boss must have known the comments were directed at him, and hit back with some thoughts of his own.
“I played with Barcelona and won the Champions League with eight guys growing from the academy - zero cost to win the Champions League, that's happened," the City boss told a press conference. “But all the clubs are going to spend a lot of money and you cannot forget all the players that Chelsea have that cost a lot of money.”
But all that matters is results, and the Catalan boss is now under pressure to make his slow and careful improvements count. Guardiola lost both matches to his Italian rival last term, but it is his time to prove that he is the ruthless one, the one that is willing to live away from his home country for as long as it takes to succeed.