Conte won't count his chickens for now

Chelsea's Diego Costa has his shot blocked by Burnley's Michael Keane in the 1-1 draw. Joint third on the EPL scorers list with 15 goals, he did not score for the third straight game.
Chelsea's Diego Costa has his shot blocked by Burnley's Michael Keane in the 1-1 draw. Joint third on the EPL scorers list with 15 goals, he did not score for the third straight game.PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite Blues' huge lead, he refuses to rule five closest challengers out of EPL title race

LONDON • Antonio Conte believes any of six teams could still win the English Premier League despite his Chelsea side moving 10 points clear at the summit before Manchester City's game at Bournemouth yesterday.

The Blues negotiated a difficult visit to Turf Moor on Sunday and left with a 1-1 draw, but it was not a poor result considering Burnley have the third-best home record in the division, behind only Chelsea themselves and Tottenham.

However, despite the commanding lead at the top of the table, Conte refused to discuss his team's increasingly strong chances of winning the championship.

"That's normal. There are 13 games before the end," said the Chelsea manager.

"If someone thinks this league is finished, I can tell you now, no.

GREAT EFFORT

First of all, they are top class, not just by the league table.

SEAN DYCHE, Burnley manager, on how his men had to battle back to secure a draw against the league leaders. The 12th-placed Clarets have won 29 of their 30 points this season at home.

"There are six teams for me that can win the league and anything can happen. We must continue to work in this way.

"I am happy for the commitment and the will to win. You can only take one point, but I am sure of the commitment.

"We have to think only of ourselves, not the other teams. It is important to play your game, to think about your game and then you think about the other results."

The Italian may be modest in his words but one should not take the Premier League for granted.

It was an underwhelming Chelsea performance, in which they did not muster a shot on target after taking a seventh-minute lead through Pedro Rodriguez.

Instead, they were required to dig deep. Conte's side have been chased this season by teams who have style but too often lack substance.

But if one quality above all has taken Chelsea to the top of the table on 60 points, it is their resilience.

Even in dropping two points after Robbie Brady scored the equaliser, or it could be argued, gaining one - Chelsea showed that they do not lack staying power.

Conte prides himself on tactical structure and building teams who compete for every ball.

He knows the Premier League is a broad church of playing styles, which is perhaps one reason why he has adapted so quickly to it.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho made a veiled reference to Chelsea's style of play after his side's victory over Watford, labelling the Blues "defensive", but Conte laughed off the comments.

"I don't like to reply to the other coaches," the 47-year-old said.

"I don't like this. He is joking. I have experience to understand this."

Burnley manager Sean Dyche was delighted with the attitude his team showed, especially having gone behind to such an early goal.

"First of all, they are top class, not just by the league table," he said.

"Pockets of their play are excellent and you can use it as a guideline to see we have moved forward.

"The team looks more assured. You are playing against the top end of the market. The mentality as well, we have plenty of that glue to hold a team together."

Dyche also paid tribute to new signing Brady, who scored with a free kick.

"It was a sublime goal against a top-class goalkeeper, a giant of a man," said the Englishman in reference to Chelsea's No. 1 Thibaut Courtois.

"To find that area of the goal was fantastic. He's just signed for a new club, he's getting a feel for how the team works, but he held his own in a really tough game."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline 'Conte won't count his chickens for now'. Print Edition | Subscribe