Football: Title, not record, matters for Chelsea boss Antonio Conte

Bournemouth's Simon Francis concedes a penalty by taking down Eden Hazard. The Chelsea attacker took and converted the spot kick, helping the Blues to their 12th Premier League win on the trot.
Bournemouth's Simon Francis concedes a penalty by taking down Eden Hazard. The Chelsea attacker took and converted the spot kick, helping the Blues to their 12th Premier League win on the trot.PHOTO: REUTERS

Chelsea coach insists mark will pale in comparison to Blues winning the league

LONDON • Antonio Conte insists that his focus is on the Premier League title and not seeing his Chelsea side set a new record for successive league victories.

The 3-0 defeat of Bournemouth on Monday set a new club record of 12 straight league wins, one short of Arsenal's single-season mark from 14 years ago.

Conte, though, has said that the only thing that concerns him is the impact on the table that shows Chelsea clear in top spot.

"If you ask me, I hope to continue winning until the end of the season but, for sure, it is not easy," the Italian said.

"I am pleased to see my players with great concentration and focus, with great will to fight and continue in this way.

"To win 12 games in a row is not easy in this league. It's a fantastic run but it's important to continue that now.

"For me, it's important only for the table. I always thought that records are not important if, at the end, you don't reach something important in your championship."

STRENGTH IN DEPTH

Today we sent a good message. In general because a lot of people waited to see if, without two really important players, Costa and Kante, we could lose points in this game. It didn't happen. I am pleased for this, because I can count on all my players in the squad.

ANTONIO CONTE, Chelsea manager, on his side proving they could cope with missing key players.

Going into Monday's match with Diego Costa and N'Golo Kante suspended, it was widely assumed Conte would throw in £33 million (S$58.65 million) signing Michy Batshuayi for his first league start up front.

Instead, the manager sprang a surprise by playing without a recognised striker and was rewarded with inventive attacking displays from two-goal hero Pedro Rodriguez, Eden Hazard, who got the other from the penalty spot, and Willian.

"This is the first time we played without a real forward. We tried this in training and I think at the moment, this situation is the best," Conte told reporters.

"But I don't forget Michy because he is a young player with great talent. He is adapting to this league... in the future I trust in him."

Conte added that Chelsea had sent out a defiant message to their title rivals with the victory.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had previously suggested that the Blues lack the depth to handle the loss of first-choice players but Conte believes that his side had passed the test.

"I think today we sent a good message," the Chelsea coach said.

"In general because a lot of people waited to see if, without two really important players, Costa and Kante, we could lose points in this game.

"It didn't happen. I am pleased for this, because I can count on all my players in the squad. I try in every game to make the best decision for the team."

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe admitted the defeat had taught his side a valuable lesson.

"When you have Hazard, Pedro and Willian counter-attacking with such pace, it's difficult," said the Englishman.

"I think that was probably where we fell short. On the ball, we gave them too many times to get into those situations by not being tight enough or good enough.

"That's something we take away from this game.

"Chelsea have got a great chance of going all the way. Their manager has done a superb job, they are very strong."

The league leaders' next game is at home against Stoke on New Year's Eve.

If they win, the chance to make it 14 victories will come in the derby against Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Jan 4.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 'Title, not record, matters for Conte'. Print Edition | Subscribe