Chelsea boss Antonio Conte believes his side remain the team to beat ahead of the start of the 2017-18 Premier League season.
The Blues claimed a second title in three years in Conte’s first season in charge, finishing seven points clear of Tottenham after winning 30 of their 38 matches.
Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City in particular have invested heavily in their squads ahead of what promises to be a fiercely contested title race next term.
But although he has warned his players against becoming complacent, Conte feels they deserve to start the season as favourites.
“For sure; we won the Premier League title last season,” he told a news conference. “This season will be tough. You know what has been happening in England. Chelsea won in 2014-15 and then Leicester City won the league. So we must be careful and not take any team lightly.
“It is normal that every big team tries to reinforce their squad by bringing in quality players. That is what they have done. For sure, next season in Premier League will be a huge challenge for us.”
Chelsea have brought in Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger and Willy Caballero during the transfer window at a reported combined cost of close to £130million.
Despite the significant outlay, Conte has warned that his new signings will need time to adapt to his methods in England’s top flight.
“It is very important for players to understand my football and adapt,” he said. “Bakayoko needs some time to understand my football and this is the great difficulty for a coach. You need a bit of time to bring the player into your idea of football.
“It is the same for Morata. He is working very well and is putting himself into every session. I think it is very good but it is important for him to have some time to adapt to our system. But I can see the will power in the player to do so.”
Conte faced criticism this week for accusing young players of being “impatient” while allowing a number of Chelsea youngsters to leave Stamford Bridge.
Dominic Solanke, Nathan Ake and Nathaniel Chalobah have all left on permanent deals, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy Abraham, Izzy Brown, Michael Hector, Tomas Kalas and Ola Aina are among a number to have completed loan moves.
Conte has defended his policy when it comes to youngsters trying to break into the first team and suggested that Chelsea is not the ideal place for them to do so.
“It is always difficult to speak about young players. There is always a great debate around this,” he said.
“I think every young player was good in this pre-season. But I have to take the right decision and see what is best for the club, players and young players when the season kicks off.
“I don’t think the landscape has changed. Young players had difficulty to break into first teams in the past, too.
“If a young player is good and strong and is ready to play, I will play them. I played my first game when I was just 16 in Italy. But I played with Lecce while avoiding relegation and not with Juventus while fighting for the title.”