Sunday, June 13, 2021

Cautious Conte plays down Chelsea title talk


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Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte reacts ahead of the English Premier League football match between Sunderland and Chelsea at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland, north-east England on December 14, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF /

Chelsea are six points clear at the top of the Premier League following their 1-0 victory at Sunderland, but Antonio Conte is determined to silence premature title talk.

Conte is cautious about the future because although Chelsea may have a significant advantage over the other title contenders, their unconvincing performance at the Stadium of Light on Wednesday should encourage the chasing pack.

They needed a 40th minute goal from Cesc Fabregas to dispose of Sunderland, who were close to an equaliser in stoppage-time when a shot from Patrick Van Aanholt was brilliantly saved by Thibaut Courtois.

“I prefer not to look at the top of the table,” Conte said. “We are doing something important up to now, but the league doesn’t finish today.

“There are still three games before the halfway stage of the season.”

Conte admitted Chelsea weren’t at their best but he was encouraged by the way they kept fighting to secure a 10th successive league victory.

“It’s very hard to win any game and we had to fight hard to win this one,” Conte said.

“I think we created chances to score a second goal and kill the game before Sunderland had a big chance to daw at the end, We needed a great save from Thibaut to win it.

“I was particularly pleased for Cesc because it was only the third game he has started. He showed fantastic commitment.”

Fabregas, still adapting to Chelsea’s 3-4-3 system, added: “The performance was really good and I felt we were very, very strong.

“Now we want to keep winning. Hopefully we can continue like this and send out a strong message.

“People forget that it’s only my second time in my career that I’ve played this system. My teammates have played it much more, but I’m getting used to it and feel very comfortable.

“There are a lot of players who I can find with passes and there’s protection behind me. I’m enjoying it a lot.”

– Commitment –
Chelsea are closing in on Arsenal’s record of 14 successive victories, achieved over two seasons, as they prepare for a trip to Crystal Palace on Saturday and home games against Bournemouth and Stoke over Christmas.

They are matches that Chelsea will be expected to win, but the same was said about their visit to the Stadium of Light, where Sunderland have scored only ten goals and now won just two of their eight home matches.

“It is not easy to win 10 games in a row in this league, so I’m pleased for my players. They deserve it because of their commitment and workrate in training sessions and every game,” Conte said.

David Moyes, the Sunderland manager, is facing a fight to avoid relegation, but he believes the strong showing against Chelsea provides hope for the future.

“We can come off saying we have had a right go at a top team,” he said.

“We got better in the second half and finished strongly, but didn’t quite do enough to get something out of the game.

“Their keeper made two great saves and I thought Patrick’s shot at the end was in, but it was really good save.

“You need a top keeper and a top striker and we have that here, but so have Chelsea and they are a real threat

“It’s too early to say if they will be champions. We restricted them to a few scoring opportunities but we couldn’t stop them controlling the game.”

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