LONDON • Antonio Conte has claimed defenders are targeting Diego Costa and seeking to provoke the Spain forward, with the Chelsea manager praising his player's refusal to react in the fractious 2-2 draw at Swansea on Sunday.
Costa took his season's tally to six goals in five appearances for club and country but his two at the Liberty Stadium were not enough to prevent Conte shedding his first points as Chelsea manager.
The Italian was further unnerved by the sight of the captain, John Terry, departing on crutches after injuring his ankle in stoppage time.
That will render the centre-back a major doubt for Friday's visit of Liverpool to Stamford Bridge. David Luiz is poised to make his second debut for the club.
Yet, while Terry's fitness will be a concern, it was Costa who dominated this occasion. A trio of Swansea players were booked for fouls on the forward, with Jordi Amat setting the tone two minutes in with an elbow to the Spaniard's back that went unpunished.
"The defenders know him and, sometimes, try to provoke him," Conte said. "I was a footballer and this situation is normal. They know Diego is a player with passion and they tried to provoke him. The referee must see and allow Diego Costa to play his football.
"If you ask me if the defenders deserved a second yellow card (for fouls on the forward), I don't want to reply on this.
"I can say Diego Costa showed fantastic behaviour to control the situation. He took a lot of kicks from the first minute until the end of the game... It wasn't easy. It's incredible the defender didn't finish (get sent off) before the end of the match." That appeared to be a reference to Amat.
Costa was booked for a foul on Leroy Fer, and Swansea players suggested he should have been shown a second after going to ground easily in a challenge with goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
Yet, it was Chelsea who ended the more frustrated after the referee, Andre Marriner, failed to penalise Fer's foul on Gary Cahill before squeezing the home side 2-1 ahead just after the hour-mark.
"Everyone can see that the tackle was a foul on Cahill," said Conte. "And I think there is a great mistake by the referee. But I also want to say that this can happen to one side or the other. I don't want to complain about this but it is the reality. It is a pity."
Conte was just as infuriated his team did not capitalise on their dominance over the first hour, urging his players to learn from their profligacy.
On Terry, the manger will await the result of a scan. "He is a warrior, so I'm not worried," said Conte.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE