A great year for Blues: Conte

Winning EPL title & reaching FA Cup final in 2017 the highlights as Chelsea move up to 2nd

LONDON • Chelsea manager Antonio Conte reflected on a memorable 2017 as the Premier League champions rounded off the year with a 5-0 demolition of Stoke City on Saturday.

While his side are lagging well behind leaders Manchester City in this season's title race, the Italian is still delighted with the way the last 12 months played out in west London. The Blues won the league title in May and also reached the FA Cup final in a glorious first season at Chelsea for the former Italy coach.

"To finish this year in this way is great for me, great for the players, great for the club and our fans," said Conte after watching his side move up to second in the table on 45 points, 13 behind City ahead of the league leaders' game against Crystal Palace yesterday.

"This year was a fantastic year because to win the title in England is not easy. To be able to do this at your first try, I will remember this year in my mind forever.

"And for next year, we are still in four competitions. We have a lot of great games to face."

Conte has spent much of the season grumbling about his squad's lack of depth after Chelsea failed to land his top targets in the summer.

Yet the absences of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Andreas Christensen in the interest of squad rotation went almost unnoticed against a hapless Stoke.

In addition, Conte was able to take off Victor Moses, N'Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata, all by the 71st minute, to rest their legs ahead of the visit to Arsenal on Wednesday.

Stoke manager Mark Hughes' changes, however, did not work so well, and he admitted that his decision to play what amounted to a reserve side was made with an eye on today's fixture against Newcastle United.

Hughes, already without his first-choice defence as Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi were injured and Chelsea loanee Kurt Zouma ruled out, opted to rest Joe Allen, Xherdan Shaqiri and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

Stoke were 3-0 down after just 23 minutes following goals from Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater and Pedro Rodriguez.

The scoring was completed by a second-half penalty from Willian and an individual effort by Davide Zappacosta, but by then Hughes' thoughts had already turned to the crucial game against fellow strugglers Newcastle.

"I made decisions that I feel will help us, certainly with the game on Monday," he said.

"I rested a number of players who have been carrying slight knocks so that they will be fresh and ready to go on Monday.

"The decisions weren't easy, but they were decisions I was prepared to make."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2018, with the headline 'A great year for Blues: Conte'. Print Edition | Subscribe