LONDON – Chelsea manager Antonio Conte is wary of former Blues forward Mohamed Salah as he insisted a heavy travel schedule could be no excuse for a sub-standard performance against Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday.
The Egyptian has made a big splash since returning to the Premier League from Serie A club Roma in the summer, scoring nine goals to lead the scoring charts.
“Salah is a good player and is very dangerous,” said Conte in Friday’s pre-match press conference.
“He is a technical player, but at the same time is very fast, very strong, very good in one v one.”
Salah joined Chelsea in January 2014, but the Egypt international was soon loaned out to Fiorentina and Roma, moving to the Italian capital club on a permanent basis before signing for Liverpool in the pre-season.
Victory for Liverpool would see them draw level on 25 points with Chelsea, currently third in the table, and Conte is well aware of the threat posed by Salah.
“He’s very good to finish. We must pay great attention, but not only to Salah, also to (Sadio) Mane, (Roberto) Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, (Daniel) Sturridge.
“They have a good coach (Jurgen Klopp), they have a good identity. Great organisation, especially offensively. They are very dangerous.”
The Italian was reluctant to discuss why the Liverpool hot-shot had left Chelsea given the 25-year-old Salah’s exit pre-dated his arrival at Stamford Bridge but said: “He was very young and I think he developed a lot.”
Chelsea beat Azerbaijan’s Qarabag 4-0 on Wednesday to qualify from Champions League Group C and returned to London on Thursday after a 2 500-mile flight from Baku.
Conte has complained repeatedly about the scheduling of this weekend’s fixture given Chelsea have had a shorter recovery period than Liverpool, who drew 3-3 away to Spanish side Sevilla in the Champions League on Tuesday after squandering a 3-0 halftime lead.
Chelsea’s journey was further complicated when strong winds at Gatwick Airport, south of London, meant the plane needed two attempts to land, with Conte and his squad not getting to bed until about 6am.
“To get to your house at 6am is not simple,” he said. “To have only one day to prepare a big game, especially to have only one day to rest, is not right.
“But at the same time we must be focused on the game, a big game against Liverpool. Don’t find excuses.”
Chelsea will be going in search of a fifth straight league win as they aim to reduce a gap to leaders Manchester City that presently stands at nine points.
They will kickoff with a familiar-looking Conte on the bench after he shaved off the beard he sported during the international break, deciding he would rather follow the advice of his daughter Vittoria than that of his wife Elisabetta, who had encouraged him to grow it.
“I wanted to try a new look, but yesterday my daughter killed me. She said to me ‘Daddy, your look is older with the beard’,” Conte said.
“My daughter is more important than my wife.”