Blues will fight to the end: Conte

Chelsea wing-back Marcos Alonso saluting the Stamford Bridge crowd after scoring the second goal in the 2-0 win over Brighton on Tuesday as striker Alvaro Morata, scorer of the first goal, joins in the celebration.
Chelsea wing-back Marcos Alonso saluting the Stamford Bridge crowd after scoring the second goal in the 2-0 win over Brighton on Tuesday as striker Alvaro Morata, scorer of the first goal, joins in the celebration.PHOTO: REUTERS

Chelsea boss says defending champions are motivated to catch Pep's 'extraordinary' City

LONDON • Antonio Conte insists the battle for a top-four finish is providing Chelsea with all the motivation they need, even with Premier League leaders Manchester City out of their reach.

The Italian's side recovered from the disappointment of a pre-Christmas draw at Everton by beating Brighton 2-0 on Tuesday at Stamford Bridge to move within a point of second-placed Manchester United.

With City running rampant this season, Blues manager Conte admits that there appears to be little chance of closing the gap.

But he insisted last season's champions are still motivated.

"I think in this league there is a great motivation for all. To try, I repeat, to stay there and to fight until the end," said Conte.

"I don't know if it will win the title. It depends upon Manchester City. They are doing something extraordinary. Otherwise, Chelsea, United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool would be staying there to fight. We fight for a place in the Champions League next season.

"There are four places for six top teams. There is this great motivation for me, for the players, and we want to try and improve."

Chelsea are unbeaten in 13 Boxing Day fixtures following the win over Brighton, which hints at a professional approach to the Christmas fixture list. This was the contained, efficient team that won last season's title, a team brimming with self-assurance even when lacking sparkle, safe in the knowledge that they have enough talented players to glisten eventually.

There is also a compelling partnership developing. Cesar Azpilicueta's six assists this season have led to goals for his compatriot Alvaro Morata.

It is a special sort of Spanish connection in a team who produce more goals from Spaniards than any club in the other top five European leagues.

Morata headed Chelsea ahead immediately after half-time following a long ball played into the box by Azpilicueta and another Spaniard, Marcos Alonso, added the second on the hour.

After half-joking that Azpilicueta needs to score as well as assist, Conte embraced the special Iberian relationship and said that if they chose to celebrate it, then he wanted to be there too.

"As you know very well, Azpi is a defender with good feet," Conte said. "There is this great link between him and Alvaro.

"This wasn't the first time.

"I hope it continues in this way because we need his assists and Morata to score.

"Morata has to pay not one dinner but more dinners to Azpi. And, if they invite me, I want to go.

"Also Alonso, to score five goals up to now, for a wing-back, is a great achievement.

"But it's important to continue. Not to stop scoring. We need this alternative from our strikers."

However, Conte still wants to strengthen his squad in the transfer window starting next week and expressed his admiration for Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal after being questioned about reports linking the Chile midfielder with a move to Chelsea.

"I must be honest, it's not right to talk about a player of another team," he said. "Especially if you try to link this player with us.

"Arturo is a fantastic player, we spent many years in Juventus together. I would always want him with me."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2017, with the headline 'Blues will fight to the end: Conte'. Print Edition | Subscribe