Southampton vs Chelsea: Antonio Conte refuses to reveal season’s target and heaps praise on N’Golo Kante

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Antonio Conte admits that until last season he had never heard ofN’Golo Kante. He knows all about him now, though, and theChelsea manager is delighted by what he sees in his midfielder.

“I think he’s a complete midfielder,” Conte said of the 25-year-old signed from Leicester City in the summer, “not only a defensive midfielder. You can see in the last three games of the league, N’Golo could have scored three goals. Against Hull City, that rebounded off the post after a Diego Costa shot, against Leicester there was a deflection and then he scored against United.

“He’s a player that always arrives in the box. It’s fantastic. He has fantastic stamina, also good technique, good positioning, good personality. He’s a very good player.

“He can play box to box, but I prefer to respect the position. I like when N’Golo goes to press. And with this 3-4-3 system I ask a lot to press, to go forward. This I think N’Golo is very good at. We are very pleased to have this player with us. He’s a very good player for me.”

Kante and Chelsea meet Southampton on Sunday at St Mary’s and their opponents have only lost once in 10 games so the Italian knows his side must be on top of their game if they want to keep touch with the leaders at the top of table. Not that the manager is thinking of winning the league just yet.

“In this moment I prefer to reply that it’s very difficult,” he said. “It’s very difficult to tell now our target, because it’s early and in these games, we had difficulty against Arsenal and Liverpool. For this reason it’s important not to look at the table. It’s important to understand this type of work we’re doing now is good. We need to improve and to become a strong team. A bit of time in the future, yes, after I think eight, 10 [more] games, I can tell our target.

“Our ambition must be always to play to win every game. Always. It’s important. I try to transfer this to my players in every moment, in every day, every week, in every game. We must be ambitious. But to be ambitious you must work a lot.”

Despite not wanting to set out a goal for the season the manager feels at home at Chelsea after three months in the job.

When asked to explain, the 48-year-old said: “I have to see how I can phrase this in a way that Juventus cannot tackle me through the law, let’s say. Hmm. How can I say it? [Long pause.] Yes: in this deal Juventus was not the only owner of the player’s rights.”

Juventus challenged the accusations, telling the FT: “No third party had any ownership of the player’s rights.”

The agent also revealed that he has previously owned stakes in players. “Not often. But sometimes.”

But Raiola refused to confirm whether Pogba was one of those players: “It’s not TPO. Be careful with the legal definition of TPO. But let’s say that in that case there was an upside for our side. And by our side, I mean the player’s side.”

Raiola oversaw Pogba’s world record move to United in the summer, from which it’s believed he made €27m.

He also represents Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, both of whom joined United in the summer.

While it’s clear that neither Raiola, Pogba, Juventus or United have fallen guilty of foul play, the agent’s comments nonetheless place new focus on the now illegal practice.

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