Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has called for an end to speculation over his future as he prepares to navigate a sequence of fixtures that could make or break the Blues’ season.
Friday's FA Cup fifth round match at home to Hull City marks the beginning of a four-week spell that also includes a Champions League tie with Barcelona and Premier League games against Manchester United and Manchester City.
Conte readily indulged talk of Chelsea sacking him earlier this month, just over half a season after leading the team to the top-flight title, as he took to publicly criticising the club’s transfer dealings and suffered consecutive defeats against Bournemouth and Watford.
But Blues owner Roman Abramovich has indicated an intention to keep faith with Conte and the former Juventus and Italy coach is now eager to shelve the distraction as his team resume their challenge on three fronts.
“This topic must stop,” he said. “Every week we continue to talk about this topic. We must be focused only on the pitch and try to do our best, to try give the best satisfaction for our fans and reach the maximum for this club.
“My task and the task of the players is to try to give all of ourselves for this club, these colours and this badge. If the fans see this they will continue to push us on.”
The FA Cup perhaps represents Chelsea’s best chance of silverware, given that they exited the Carabao Cup in the last four, trail Premier League leaders City by 19 points and are considered underdogs for their European tie, but Conte insists he will still rest players against second-tier Hull in view of next week’s showdowns with Barca and United.
“We have in front of us two weeks that will be very tough. For this reason I think it is right to have a plan to take on the two tough weeks in the right way,” added Conte, who has won five league titles as a manager but no cups.
“At the same time, as you know very well, we want to try to go through to the next round in the FA Cup. When you start the season every competition is a priority. We tried to do the same in the Carabao Cup. We want to fight for every competition.”
Defender David Luiz and midfielders Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ross Barkley are absent due to injury but Conte said that striker Alvaro Morata would be involved to some degree against Hull with a view to being ready to start against Barcelona on Tuesday.