Conte warns Blues against fouling up

Chelsea star Eden Hazard is the most-fouled Premier League player since 2014-15. He has been fouled a league-high 75 times this season.
Chelsea star Eden Hazard is the most-fouled Premier League player since 2014-15. He has been fouled a league-high 75 times this season.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Antonio Conte will not permit any complacency as his Chelsea side attempt to take their next step towards the Premier League title at Stoke today.

The Italian confirmed he has his sights firmly set on a league and FA Cup double when he abandoned his policy of rotating his team and fielded a full-strength side in Monday's FA Cup quarter-final win against Manchester United.

The 1-0 victory over Jose Mourinho's side set up a semi-final meeting with Tottenham Hotspur. But that will be put to one side as the Blues bid to open a 13-point gap at the top of the Premier League table, 24 hours before nearest challengers Spurs and Manchester City are in action.

Conte is determined there will be no let-up when they visit Stoke because he believes Mark Hughes' side are a strong, physical team with good technique.

"Stoke City for sure are a great team, the game won't be easy, for sure," the 47-year-old said at his pre-match conference yesterday.

Conte also gave special praise to Belgian forward Eden Hazard but said that referees must "protect" him, seemingly referring to how the 26-year-old was being targeted by United players on Monday.

"Hazard is a type of player that is very difficult to stop," he said. "For this reason sometimes you try to stop him with a good or bad way.

"I'm not worried about this because Eden is very strong physically and he's showed me that he is able to play in this league. This league is very strong physically. But I think the referee must pay great attention and to try to get the players to have the respect of the opponent."

A point for Stoke in the 0-0 draw at Manchester City last week moved them within four points of eighth-placed West Bromwich Albion. Ahead of Hughes' reunion with one of his former clubs, defender Bruno Martins Indi says his side are still targeting eighth.

"At Man City it was a good performance," said the Dutchman, who confirmed this week he is in advanced talks about turning his season-long loan from Porto into a permanent move.

"Maybe we sometimes had the situation where we were lucky... but we were always dangerous on the counter-attack as well."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'Conte warns Blues against fouling up'. Print Edition | Subscribe