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Barcelona visit presents Champions League stage Conte craves

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Barcelona’s visit to Chelsea on Tuesday gives Antonio Conte the perfect opportunity to reaffirm his stature as one of Europe’s greatest coaches.

“To play against Barcelona is a great challenge for us,” Conte said after easing the pressure on his job with back-to-back home wins over West Brom and Hull in the past week.

“We must be excited to play this type of game, especially against this team. I consider Barcelona one of the best teams in the world.”

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Conte also considers himself one of the best coaches in the world, referring to himself despite a recent 4-1 drubbing at Watford as “a winner.”

He does so with some justification.

In a glittering coaching career, Conte made Juventus title winners again with three consecutive Serie A titles after a five-year drought.

He also surpassed expectations by leading an Italy side short on star names to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, and delivered the Premier League in his debut season at Chelsea.

However, a second season slump at the Bridge and his fractious relationship with the club’s hierarchy means most believe the Italian won’t last at Chelsea beyond the end of the season at the latest.

Whether it is to convince Roman Abramovich and close aid Marina Granovskaia he should remain in charge next season or to attract the attention of Europe’s other giants who may be looking for a coach come the summer, Conte needs Champions League nights to remember.

His two years in the competition at Juventus ended in a 4-0 quarter-final aggregate thrashing from Bayern Munich and an embarrassing group stage exit behind Galatasaray.

Conte complained then it was impossible for Italian sides to compete at the latter stages of the Champions League.

It didn’t help his case then that his successor Massimiliano Allegri then led Juve to two Champions League finals in three seasons.

Conte’s money complaints –
There have been similarities between Conte’s final days at Juventus and many of his public outbursts against the Chelsea ownership this season over his lack of input over recruitment and how much is spent.

“I think I’m a bit of a disaster to convince the club to buy the players,” Conte said last week.

“I have to speak more with the managers who are very, very good to persuade their clubs to spend money and buy top players.”

Conte may then welcome his meeting with the more softly-spoken Ernesto Valverde this week.

In Valverde’s eight-month spell in charge, Barca have smashed their club record transfer fee twice for Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho.

Yet, it is in a very different way that Conte may be able to learn from Valverde as neither Dembele or Coutinho have made much impact on Barca opening up a seven-point La Liga lead and booking their place in the Copa del Rey final.

Instead, Valverde has made the best of what he inherited to turn Barca from the depths of a pre-season crisis into potential treble winners.

Neymar’s decision to walk out on the club for a world record 222 million euros to Paris Saint-Germain was a huge loss that Valverde has used as an opportunity to reconstruct a more solid side that maintains the firepower of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in attack.

A change from Barca’s traditional 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 has seen them concede just once in their six Champions League games to date, and 11 times in 24 La Liga outings.

Meanwhile, the space left unoccupied by Neymar has unleashed left-back Jordi Alba as an attacking threat.

Alba was on target as Barca equalled a club record by avoiding defeat for a 31st straight La Liga game in a 2-0 win at Eibar on Saturday.

Most of all, Valverde’s calm has restored stability to a club that badly needed a steady hand after a tumultuous summer.

That may be the lesson Conte and Chelsea can learn from most of all before careering towards another messy divorce at the end of the season.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Ten and thousands of Hong Kong protesters flood city streets in largest rally in weeks

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Source: AFP- A sea of democracy activists flooded the streets of Hong Kong Sunday in a defiant show to the city’s leaders that their movement still pulls wide public support, despite mounting violence and increasingly stark warnings from Beijing.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters carrying umbrellas poured across the heart of Hong Kong island defying torrential rain and a police order not to march from a park where they had gathered earlier for a rally.

Weeks of demonstrations have plunged the financial hub into crisis, with images of masked black-clad protesters engulfed by tear gas during street battles against riot police stunning a city once renowned for its stability.

Sunday’s action, which organisers the Civil Human Rights Front said drew more than 1.7 million in the largest rally in weeks, was billed as a return to the “peaceful” origins of the leaderless protest movement.


“It’s been a long day and we’re very tired, but to see so many people out in the rain marching for Hong Kong gives strength to everyone,” said Danny Tam, a 28-year-old graphic designer.

The unprecedented political crisis was sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

But protests have since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.

Anger has been sharpened among protesters by the perceived heavy-handedness of the police who have used tear gas, baton charges and rubber bullets in incidents that have pinballed across social media.

“The police are doing things that are totally unacceptable,” said Yim, who like many of the protesters gave only one name.

“They are hurting citizens, they aren’t protecting us.”

AFP / Manan VATSYAYANATorrential rain failed to dampen the enthusiasm of protesters in Hong Kong

Communist Party-ruled mainland China has taken an increasingly hardline tone towards the protesters, decrying the “terrorist-like” actions of a violent hardcore minority among the demonstrators.

Despite the near-nightly clashes with police, the movement has won few concessions from Beijing or the city’s unelected leadership.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Hong Kong Activities face crucial weekend test after airport setback

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Source: AFP- Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement faces a major test this weekend as it tries to muster another huge crowd following criticism over a recent violent airport protest and as concerns mount over Beijing’s next move.

Ten weeks of protests have plunged the international finance hub into crisis with the communist mainland taking an increasingly hardline tone, including labelling the more violent protester actions “terrorist-like”.

Chinese state media have put out images of military personnel and armoured personnel carriers across the border in Shenzhen, while the United States has warned Beijing against sending in troops, a move many analysts say would be a reputational and economic disaster for China.

The nationalistic Global Times newspaper said there would not be a repeat of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, in which hundreds — or even thousands — are believed to have been killed, if Beijing moves to quash the protests.

“The incident in Hong Kong won’t be a repeat of the June 4th political incident in 1989,” it said, insisting the country now had more sophisticated approaches.

It was a rare reference to the bloody events, which are taboo in China.

Hong Kong’s protests were sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, but have since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.

Millions of people have hit the streets while clashes have broken out between police and small groups of hardcore protesters for 10 consecutive weekends.

For most of that time, US President Donald Trump has taken a hands-off approach to the unrest but began speaking up this week, suggesting any potential trade deal with Beijing could be upended by a violent response from the mainland.

Speaking on Thursday, Trump urged his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to meet protesters and solve the crisis “humanely”.

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