Chelsea’s Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabrega (C) celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during 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 /
Antonio Conte told his Chelsea players to go and make it 11 league wins on the bounce with victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday as they threaten to run away with the title.
Rampant Chelsea are six points clear at the top of the Premier League following a 1-0 victory at Sunderland and face a Palace side on Saturday that is in deep trouble at the other end of the table.
Conte turned his mind to Palace within minutes of the final whistle on Wednesday.
“I am pleased for my players because they deserve this for their commitment and work-rate every day, in every training session, during the game,” he said.
“Now for sure we have to continue. In three days on Saturday we will have another tough game against Crystal Palace.
“I hope we recover very well after this battle to try to arrive at Christmas in an incredible position in the table.”
Chelsea may have a significant advantage over the other title contenders but they were not wholly convincing at the Stadium of Light and needed a 40th-minute goal from Cesc Fabregas to dispose of struggling Sunderland.
The Londoners are closing in on Arsenal’s record of 14 successive victories, achieved over two seasons, as they prepare for the trip to Palace 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 10 goals and now won just two of their eight home matches.
“I prefer not to look at the top of the table,” Conte said, attempting to play down Chelsea title talk.
“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 were not at their best but he was encouraged by the way they kept fighting to secure a tenth successive league victory.
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.”
– ‘A right go’ –
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.
And they might have grabbed an equaliser at the death, but Thibaut Courtois saved brilliantly in stoppage time from Patrick van Aanholt.
“We can come off saying we have had a right go at a top team,” said Moyes. “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 a 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.”