Blues flying high but still long way to go

Welsh striker Sam Vokes (hidden) celebrating with Burnley team-mates after scoring against Leicester last month. It was the only goal of the match and took the Clarets' home league record this season to nine wins and a draw in 13 games.
Welsh striker Sam Vokes (hidden) celebrating with Burnley team-mates after scoring against Leicester last month. It was the only goal of the match and took the Clarets' home league record this season to nine wins and a draw in 13 games.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Conte knows a slip will allow rivals to catch up and is taking no chances at Burnley 'fortress'

LONDON • Chelsea may be flying high at the top of the English Premier League table but Antonio Conte is experienced enough to know the title race is far from over.

His side make the trip to Burnley today in high spirits thanks to their 3-1 victory over title rivals Arsenal last weekend.

The Blues have won 16 of their last 18 league matches and are odds-on favourites to be crowned champions. But Conte is not getting carried away because he is well aware any slip could allow one of the chasing pack to close the gap.

"Until the end of the season you have to live with this pressure," the Chelsea manager said at his pre-match conference on Friday.

"If the opponent win they close the gap. If they don't win you have the opportunity to take more points. But we have the experience to live with this situation.

"It is important to live with yourself. We are top of the table and can count only on our game. Good news from other teams and we will be happy.

  • 7

    Consecutive Burnley home victories.

  • 97%

    Burnley's home points of their total haul this season (28 out of 29)

"Honestly, I think there are six teams very strong and can fight to win the title. Also Manchester United. They have a great squad and a lot of players they trust to win the title. This is the truth and we must know this."

Burnley have seven straight wins at Turf Moor and have taken 28 of their 29 points at home, and Conte will not underestimate the size of his side's task today.

"It will be a tough game," he said.

"The style is always the same. They fight a lot, play a lot of long balls and put a lot of pressure when we have the ball.

"They score a lot at the end of the game. We must pay great attention. Burnley is a really strong team at home."

The Italian added that David Luiz is fit despite a minor knee problem and he will need the Brazil defender at his best to subdue the Burnley forward line.

"He is available," said Conte.

"He's playing with this little pain in his knee. But he is a warrior."

Burnley manager Sean Dyche has said that his players can learn from Chelsea's ability to exploit the flexible 3-4-3 system that Conte has introduced with such success at Stamford Bridge this season.

Dyche, who has varied his own formation this season, said: "The change seems to have worked well for them and it looks like they've got that feeling where everyone knows their job.

"Everyone knows the expectation of their role. They can keep the ball when they need to, and they can defend. There's a good mixture there I think.

"I quite like that, that's how I want my team to operate."

Dyche has strengthened his squad since a 3-0 defeat at Chelsea in August, notably adding winger Robbie Brady from Norwich for a club-record £13 million (S$23.1 million) on transfer deadline day, but he will be without midfielder Jeff Hendrick, who begins a three-match suspension.

"They played miles better than us on the day. We've morphed into a stronger unit now, with a bit more experience and knowledge of what the Premier League is about," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

BURNLEY V CHELSEA

Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, 9.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline 'Blues flying high but still long way to go'. Print Edition | Subscribe