Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte (C) applauds the fans following the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea at Selhurst Park in south London on December 17, 2016.
Cheslea won the match 1-0. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS /
Antonio Conte has praised his Chelsea team for changing people’s perceptions but dismissed Arsene Wenger’s attempt to label them “super favourites” for the Premier League title.
In a move that could be interpreted as the veteran Arsenal manager firing the first shots in this term’s title race mind-games, Wenger claimed the top-flight crown is “[Chelsea’s] to lose” after they stormed to a six-point advantage at the summit thanks to a winning run of 12 successive matches.
Stoke City will be the next team to try and halt Conte’s juggernaut when they visit Stamford Bridge today.
And the former Italy and Juventus boss has been impressed by the players’ turnaround from the shambolic title defence of last season that heralded his arrival.
“I think it is very difficult to reply to this question because I think that we have played only 18 games and there are 20 games to finish this season,” he said when Wenger’s remarks were put to him at a pre-match news conference.
“At the start of the season I think not one person, not one coach and not one journalist trusted in this team to fight for the title this season because we came after a bad season. Our [transfer] market wasn’t good for some people but now I am pleased that the opinion is changing.
“I am a bit worried because when the opinion changes quickly you must pay attention. We have only six points more than the second team [Liverpool] and seven than the third team [Manchester City].
“The way is long but, I repeat, I am pleased for me and the players if someone is changing his opinion.
“It is not easy, this league that we are doing very well in. I think that 12 wins in a row is a great achievement but it is not enough to win the league at this point of the season.”
The fact that Liverpool and City meet in a mouth-watering clash on New Year’s Eve could play further into Chelsea’s hands, but Conte is looking no further than tackling Mark Hughes’ side, who are looking to respond to a 4-1 reverse suffered at Anfield on Tuesday.
“I hope to keep this run also because we will have a tough game against Stoke City. We must pay great attention if we want to continue in this way,” he added.
“It’s important for us to beat Stoke City and then to think about this question [the strength of Chelsea’s position].
“Then, as I said before, we remain after tomorrow 19 games [to go]. It’s a long way before we arrive at the end of the season.”
Conte’s animated displays on the touchline have become a notable feature of the Premier League this season but he revealed he has been operating through the pain barrier over recent weeks after sustaining a calf injury while running with his coaching staff.
“I had a big problem in my calf, yes, but it is the fault of Carlo Cudicini and Steve Holland because I wanted to run with them and I paid for this. They run very strong,” he explained.
“I am getting better. No [I won’t sit down], it happened before Crystal Palace and during the game at Crystal Palace I suffered a lot to stay up on the bench. Now, I haven’t pain.”