In the last game of the 2016 calendar year, Chelsea will welcome Stoke City to Stamford Bridge and will be looking to extend the ongoing club-record winning streak to 13 league games while setting a new club record with 10 wins in a row in all competitions.
Arsenal hold the current Premier League record for both single-season winning streak (13) and overall winning streak (14), both set in 2002 when Arsene Wenger was still a bright, young, and bushy-tailed winner. He no longer may be most of those things, but he still knows a favorite when he sees one, or a “super-favourite” in this case, as he called Chelsea in his own press conference earlier.
Unlike Eden Hazard, Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte isn’t quite ready to embrace that label. In fact, he’s a bit worried about it.
“It is very difficult to reply to this question because we’ve played only 18 games and there are 20 games to finish this season. At the start not one person trusted this team would fight for this league this season but now I am pleased the opinion is changing.”
“But 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 and the way ahead is long, but I am pleased if we are changing opinions.”
We will be exactly halfway through the season after this game — the latest Toughest Test™ — and depending on how results go, we could be anywhere from three to eight points clear at the top. Things are going extremely well at the moment, but in football, things can change very quickly.
“We are doing very well and to have 12 wins in a row is a great achievement, but it is not enough to win the league at this point of the season. I hope to keep this run tomorrow because we have a tough game against Stoke City, and we must pay great attention to continue this way.”
“Tomorrow is very important because we play a game at home, it is the last game to finish the first part to the season, and it is important to continue to win to send the right message. But then after tomorrow 19 games remain and it is a long way to arrive at the end of the season.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Conte expects Stoke to continue our opponents’ tendency to play aggressively, whether in the press or in the tackle, or both.
Conte: "Tomorrow we have a tough game against Stoke City & we must pay attention if we want to continue this run" #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) December 30, 2016
As far as team news, Conte confirmed that John Terry was back in training and that youngsters Kenedy and Charly Musonda have returned from their loans and joined the first-team as well. Whether any of them will play for Chelsea anytime soon is up for debate — Conte even managed to stay tight-lipped even on the status of the once again available Diego Costa and N’Golo Kanté.
Conte smiles when asked if Costa & Kante will start: "You will see tomorrow." #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) December 30, 2016
Conte on Terry: "John trained with us & now he’s finding the right shape. It’s important for us to bring him in the best shape to help."— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) December 30, 2016
Conte: 'Kenedy and Charly Musonda came back from their loans because they didn't play a lot.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 30, 2016
Conte: 'It's important for them to stay with us in these next few weeks to evaluate what is best for them and the team.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 30, 2016
I ask Conte if he could find replacement for Oscar within Chelsea squad. Says he has trust in youngsters & wants to work with them #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) December 30, 2016
Oscar hadn’t played much after the Arsenal loss, so finding a pair of legs to fill his spot shouldn’t be too hard. Whether that’s the best choice for any of our own youngsters and prospects is debatable, but Conte’s saying all the right things when it comes to the kids, and doing all the right things when it comes to at least Nathaniel Chalobah.
But all that’s for the future. Now the attention and the work and the fight turns to Saturday and Stoke City. Forza!