Conte defiant as tired Chelsea's great run ends

Chelsea's Antonio Conte ahead of the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at the the White Hart Lane Stadium in London, Britain on Jan 4, 2017.
Chelsea's Antonio Conte ahead of the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at the the White Hart Lane Stadium in London, Britain on Jan 4, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

LONDON • For 53 minutes of a turbulent evening, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte had worked himself into his usual frenzy - making loud exclamations, gesticulating wildly and pacing up and down the touchline.

But when Dele Alli rose majestically to head the ball beyond Thibaut Courtois for his second goal, the Italian's body language changed. He looked dejected, stunned even. He scratched his head, as if trying to comprehend how this had happened.

Even at that relatively early stage, there seemed no way back into the game against a resurgent Spurs. Not with Chelsea looking a little jaded, as if their remarkable endeavours of the previous three months, in winning 13 consecutive English Premier League games, had finally caught up with them.

Conte tried to put up a brave front after the match, insisting that Wednesday's defeat was very different to the 3-0 reverse they suffered at Arsenal on Sept 24, since when they have been unstoppable.

He said: "We are disappointed but also we must be pleased, for our run as 13 wins in this league is not easy."

"This is a different defeat to the one in September, because today we lost the game, but showed that we were a team. Against Arsenal, we weren't a team; today we were."

There is no shame whatsoever in losing at White Hart Lane. For much of their winning streak, the Blues had looked formidable, but not indestructible.

RALLYING CRY

Today we lost the game, but showed that we were a team.

ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea manager, insisting there would be no knee jerk reaction to the loss at Spurs.

Their surge under Conte in the first half of the campaign had been extraordinary by any measure, let alone when set against last season's mediocrity or indeed their struggle in the early weeks of the Italian's tenure at Stamford Bridge.

Analysts felt that the Blues' results were consistently better than performances merited, that they were scoring a disproportionate number of chances created.

They had one thing going for them throughout the streak - the meanest defence in the league, until Wednesday's loss.

"It is strange for us to concede these goals because we are defending well, and they are in a crucial moment," Conte said.

"At the end of the first half and then in the second half after we miss the chances to score, but this can happen."

As the manager prepares to get his side to rebound from the loss, he also needs to settle frayed nerves among his squad. Diego Costa and Pedro were seen having a heated argument during the first half of the Spurs match.

"My priority is to win again," Conte said. "The training doesn't change if you win or you lose. We have to continue to work."

REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2017, with the headline 'Conte defiant as tired Chelsea's great run ends'. Print Edition | Subscribe