Antonio Conte: Chelsea can't compete financially with Manchester clubs

Robson: Centre forward most important in Conte teams (1:36)

Stewart Robson analyses Chelsea's performance against Brighton, highlighting exactly why the centre forward position is so important for Antonio Conte. (1:36)

LONDON -- Chelsea cannot compete with the spending power of Manchester City and Manchester United in the battle to sign the very best players in the transfer market, according to manager Antonio Conte.

On Monday, United completed a swap deal with Arsenal to acquire Alexis Sanchez on a lucrative contract, sending Henrikh Mkhitaryan to the Emirates Stadium, while City spent in excess of £200 million last summer to bolster Pep Guardiola's squad.

Sources have also told ESPN FC the Premier League leaders are targeting Athletic Bilbao centre-back Aymeric Laporte and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred in the January transfer window.

Chelsea have focused on buying younger players with significant resale value and balancing signings with sales in recent years. Even the club-record £58m purchase of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid last summer will be offset by the transfer fee Atletico Madrid are required to pay for Diego Costa.

Conte insisted that, viewed within this context, last season's title win was "a little miracle" and that his team are doing "a fantastic job" in the current campaign, despite the fact that they trail City by 15 points after 24 games.

"For me, this is already a good season," said Conte. "Because we are doing 120 percent. I'm doing a fantastic job, the same for my players. It's not important if you reach the final [of a competition] or win a trophy or win the league. The most important thing is to see if the coach and players are working very hard and very well. This, for me, is a successful season.

"Last season I think we did a fantastic job and did a little miracle. This season is showing this. In this moment there are two teams in this league who are 'top.' They stay there. The others have to fight for a place in the Champions League [next season].

"Now it's not simple to think about [finishing above them] because these big teams continue to improve and invest a lot of money. Then if you continue to have this type of gap... it's not only here in England. These two big clubs can become seriously dangerous for other teams in the world.

"These two teams are very strong already and want to invest. It's the same, not only for Alexis Sanchez. Only one or two clubs can pay this type of salary. Also, if you want a player, you are faced with this reality. We never were in this race [to sign Sanchez]. Ever. One of the reasons was this amount of salary."

Conte's attempts to manage expectations may not go down well at Chelsea where, in the Roman Abramovich era, only Jose Mourinho in 2013-14 has kept his job as manager after a season without winning silverware. But Conte insisted that it will take time to build a team to match the Manchester giants.

"The past can be one way, the present can be in another way, the future can be in another way," said Conte. "The situation changes. What happened three years, 10 years or eight years ago was totally different. Now I think that we have to fight with our work.

"I think last season we won the league and reached the FA Cup final and we finished with a profit of £50m in the transfer market. In the past, this had never happened. For this reason, the situation changed. When the situation changes, you have to fight to try to give all of yourself for Chelsea.

"Now I think Manchester United and Manchester City stay there [at the top], and we have to try and build something important to create a basis, and then make success with our work. Not with money. With work.

"We need to improve this team, improve the squad, to create this basis. Don't forget, in the last couple of years, we lost a lot of old players who wrote the history of this club. There is -- I don't like this word -- 'transition' but sometimes you have to stop yourself and see the truth.

"I trust in my work. And I think that, if I stay here [beyond this season], it'll be because the club trusts in my work. And not only the money. You can do two types of football: Only with money and you pay a lot and take the best players; the other way is to try and put a bit of money in and then hard work. We are in the middle. We are working and trying to do our best during the transfer market."