Inexorable title march goes on

Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard rounding Bournemouth goalkeeper Artur Boruc in the 20th minute to score their second goal. The Blues ran out comfortable 3-1 winners, and will next face Manchester United.
Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard rounding Bournemouth goalkeeper Artur Boruc in the 20th minute to score their second goal. The Blues ran out comfortable 3-1 winners, and will next face Manchester United.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Chelsea maintain their seven-point lead at the top of the table, with seven games to play

LONDON • Chelsea are answering every test of their credentials, manager Antonio Conte said, as their push towards the Premier League title continued with a 3-1 win against Bournemouth on Saturday.

After London rivals Tottenham Hotspur thumped Watford 4-0 for their sixth straight league win to cut their lead to four points, Chelsea faced a potentially difficult visit to the south coast.

Yet an Adam Smith own goal, and further efforts from Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso ensured they comfortably beat the hosts to regain their seven-point advantage.

"When you have this type of opponent (Tottenham) who is in good form and wants to catch you, it is important to have a good answer. This is a good answer," Conte said.

"It's normal that when you play after your opponent that you will see your opponent very close. You can feel a bit of the pressure, but it's normal.

"I like the pressure. If I don't see pressure, I put pressure. Because I think under the pressure, you get the best from yourself."

Consistency has been crucial for the Blues and Conte, who won three Serie A titles as Juventus manager.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is playing behind a defensive trio of Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta who have conceded just 25 goals - the league's second tightest defence.

Wing-backs Victor Moses and Alonso have provided energy, width, and an attacking threat, while N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic have formed the most dominant midfield pairing in the league.

They have provided the platform from which Hazard, top-scorer Diego Costa and Pedro have flourished.

The trio have scored 38 league goals between them with a combination of strength, skill and guile to spearhead their title challenge.

But Costa has now gone five matches without a goal. Still, it was his shot that Smith deflected in and the striker went close twice more.

"I'm happy with his performance," Conte said. "Diego is not scoring, but he's totally involved in the team, and he continues to work with commitment and desire. He provoked the first goal, and I'm sure he can score in every game."

Chelsea face the next test of their credentials at Manchester United on Sunday.

They thrashed Jose Mourinho's men 4-0 in October, and can record a seventh home-away league double this season after picking up six points against Bournemouth, Manchester City, West Ham, Hull, Leicester and Stoke.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe conceded that a change of tactics could not change the result.

"They are hard to play against," he said. "At Stamford Bridge, we tried to play their way and lost 3-0 (in December). Today we played our way and that didn't work either."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2017, with the headline 'Inexorable title march goes on'. Print Edition | Subscribe