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Antonio Conte ponders on Kanté and Costa absences, admits Chelsea are becoming title favorites

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Quotes from Thursday’s pre-match press conference.

Conte held his customary pre-match press conference a day early, sitting down to face the cameras and the journalists on Thursday instead of the usual Friday time slot. The Chelsea boss started off by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, before getting back down to business.

On Monday, Boxing Day, Chelsea will host 10th place AFC Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge. The Cherries will be without Chelsea loanee and first-team hopeful Nathan Aké, but the Blues will be missing two even more crucial players in Diego Costa and N’Golo Kanté.

Conte has spent the past week looking for solutions to their absence as he looks to take three points and a club-record 12th straight win from our encounter against a tough side led by Eddie Howe.

"We know that for this game, N’Golo [Kanté] and Diego [Costa] can’t play and for sure they are two important players for us, this is clear. But we are working very well this week to try to find the solutions to play good football, to continue to win, to take the points."

"We know against Bournemouth it won‘t be easy because they are a very good team. Eddie Howe is a really good manager and I have studied Bournemouth and been watching a good team with good organisation and a physical aspect. They try always to play from the back and put good pressure on. But we are working very well on this."

Perhaps more so than any of our starting players this season, Diego has been in a league of his own. The Brazilian forward has scored 13 goals and assisted 5 more in 17 matches thus far, putting himself into early contention for the Player of the Year award while greatly aiding the club's cause for the Premier League title.

With Diego out, Conte’s options including introducing Michy Batshuayi to the Premier League for a first ever start, or perhaps a formation change away from the 3-4-3, or perhaps something we hadn’t though of ourselves.

"I have four days to evaluate the situation and find the best solution for the team. Diego is an important player for us but in this squad I can have different solutions for his replacement and we are working on this aspect."

"It is a good test for us to play this game without two players very important for this team, and for this reason it is important to evaluate the group situation. It is the chance to play a player who is not playing a lot or to find another solution. What my eye is seeing in this week is very important."

-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC

Chelsea's current form has put the team at the very top of the Premier League, six points ahead of second-place Liverpool, as five more teams battle it out for the last three spots of the top four take place. Conte is used to being in this position, having led his previous club Juventus to three Serie A titles in the three years he spent at the Bianconeri. And he wants to keep the team at that, welcoming all the pressure that comes from leading the charge for the trophy.

"I don’t trust people who say it’s important to stay behind and to not have pressure in this position. No, I prefer to have good pressure and stay at the top of the table. We earned this position and now it’s important to keep this position. It won’t be easy."

"To arrive at Christmas and open the newspaper and see you are top of the table is fantastic. If you asked me this before, I must be honest, it was a bit difficult to trust to be top of the table at Christmas, but the players deserve this."

"In my experience you can only keep this position through hard work and by facing every game with great concentration, with great focus, and with a great will to fight and win the game."

Chelsea's run has been one of the major surprises of the season, just as our collapse was last season. Just goes to show the fortunes can change quickly and drastically. The only way thus forward is to work more, work harder, work better.

"At the start of the season, not one person forecast Chelsea to be at the top of the table, for many reasons – because the squad was the same as last season, because our market wasn’t great – but we found the right balance between me, my players and the club, to try to change the opinion of the people and try to have a good season."

"Now we are two games from being halfway through the season, and for this reason we must have the right pressure. Me and these players in the past have had the habit of staying top of the table, but I prefer not to look at the table in this moment. It’s not important. It’s important to look at the table at the end of the season."

"Now it’s important to continue taking three points to increase our tally. Then, when we finish our season, we will look at the table and see where you are."

"After 11 wins in a row we are becoming the favourite. But I prefer to be favourite on the pitch, with good results, with good performances, playing good football, keeping clean sheets, showing great passion during games. That’s important."

-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC