Football: Chelsea train keeps chugging along on top

Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard scoring past West Ham goalkeeper Darren Randolph in the 25th minute for the Blues' opener as they beat West Ham 2-1 away. Chelsea next face Stoke in the league.
Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard scoring past West Ham goalkeeper Darren Randolph in the 25th minute for the Blues' opener as they beat West Ham 2-1 away. Chelsea next face Stoke in the league.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Blues won't let their lead slip as they stamp their title credentials with gritty 2-1 win at West Ham

LONDON • Antonio Conte has backed his Chelsea players to finish the job - with just 11 matches left - after the Blues re-established their 10-point advantage at the top with an impressive 2-1 win at West Ham United on Monday.

The visitors had to be resilient to repel the home side's frantic early pressure, with a barrage of crosses aimed at Andy Carroll, before striking on the counter-attack to take control of the contest.

It is the seventh time a side have reached 66 points at this stage of the season in the Premier League, with the leaders going on to lift the title on each of the previous six occasions, including Chelsea twice.

Conte's side host Manchester City and travel to Manchester United next month in their remaining fixtures against teams in the top six.

"I must have confidence in them," Conte said. "I trust my players because they are showing me great commitment not only in games, but during the week in every training session."

HAVE THE BIT BETWEEN THEIR TEETH

It's important for us to keep this anger and will to fight and stay on top of the league. It won't be easy. We know this.

ANTONIO CONTE , Chelsea manager, believes his team can stay the Premier League distance.


THE MARK OF CHAMPIONS

I can see them staying on top with the quality they have, but also with how solid they are and how concentrated they are. They look in good shape.

SLAVEN BILIC , West Ham manager, feels that Chelsea have all the necessary attributes that league-winning sides possess.

He said that his players would use the experience of previous titles races not to buckle and felt that his side had dealt with the pressure exerted by second-placed Tottenham Hotspur's victory against Everton on Sunday.

City can reduce the deficit to eight points by beating Stoke today but Chelsea have a vastly superior goal difference.

"It's very important in this period to live the pressure in the right way and above all when you play the game after everyone else, and you know they won," Conte said.

"It's important for us to keep this anger and will to fight and stay on top of the league. It won't be easy. We know this."

Chelsea now have 30 more points than at the corresponding stage last season and the only minor irritation for Conte was the stoppage-time goal from Manuel Lanzini that briefly gave West Ham hope of an improbable feat of escapology.

"To give away a clean sheet at the end is not good, we must improve in this situation," he said.

"Had West Ham scored after 85 minutes, we'd have been in trouble."

For Chelsea, however, that was only a minor irritation.

Eden Hazard had opened the scoring with a classy breakaway strike and Diego Costa's 18th goal of the season, early in the second half, left an air of inevitability over the rest of the evening.

Chelsea threatened all night with their quick, high-quality counter-attacking.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said it will not be easy for Chelsea to win the title but he felt Conte's men had the determination to seal it.

"There are enough points available if they slip, and every game will be difficult for them," said Bilic.

"It will not be an easy ride, but they are not going to become casual. That's 100 per cent. They look very, very serious.

"I can see them staying on top with the quality they have, but also with how solid they are and how concentrated they are. They look in good shape."

Bilic also pointed out that Chelsea are on top because they are solid.

"There are many good teams in the Premier League with attacking football, flair and individual class. But from all these teams, Chelsea look the most solid," he said.

"They always defend with numbers. They always defend with five and two holding midfielders, minimum. So seven players.

"And, because they are really fit, they make that offensive transition their main offensive weapon. They're 10 points clear at the top. This is why."

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline 'Chelsea train keeps chugging along on top'. Print Edition | Subscribe