Things were going quite swimmingly for Chelsea for the first 45 minutes of Saturday’s match against Swansea City, and then, in the space of ten seconds, they suddenly weren’t. A questionable free kick, a perfect delivery, some highly questionable marking, and one well-taken header later, the referee’s whistle blew and it was 1-1 despite Swansea barely getting a kick of the ball.
The mood that was relaxed and joyous turned anxious and apprehensive, though Frank Lampard’s half-time appearance and heartfelt goodbye turned some of that back around.
Meanwhile, in the dressing room, Antonio Conte was delivering his half-time message. While he was undoubtedly not pleased by how the half ended — he specifically warned about Fernando Llorente before the game, and repeatedly stressed the need to pay great attention — it sounds like he kept his message positive and supportive.
“I told them we are playing very well, we are dominating the game, we are creating chances, but it’s 1-1. We don’t deserve it but it’s the reality. So go to the second half and push because we need to win.”
Chelsea eventually found the second goal, allowing Conte to praise their second-half response and overall concentration and focus.
“We started the second half and Hazard did a great combination with Costa and Fabianski made a great save, then Fabregas hit the crossbar, then we scored the goal. After the first half it was a bit frustrating for us to be drawing. But in this situation, when the tension starts to increase, it’s important to see the right answer of my players. Today I saw a lot of right answers from my players.”
“To keep the concentration for the whole championship is not easy, but I have a lot of players that played and won in the past. They know very well the way we must continue to try to stay at the top of the table and win the title.”
“If it happens sometime that I can see them a bit relaxed, it’s right for me to go into them and help them be focused at every moment, but honestly, until now, it wasn’t necessary to keep the concentration and focus of my players.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
With 20 wins from 26 games and, at least temporarily, an 11-point lead at the top of the table, Chelsea just need to see this out over the last third of the season. Focus and concentration will be key, while periods of casual play that we saw a few times on Saturday will have to be minimized. The title is ours to win or throw away. It will be spectacular either way.