Collecting all three points against Arsenal in a 3-1 win at the Bridge on Saturday, Chelsea continued to maintain a safe and sizable lead in the Premier League. With 59 points from 24 matches and a nine-point lead over second place Tottenham, the Blues remain the clear favourites by the title — as admitted by two Premier League managers recently in very similar headlines.
However, manager Antonio Conte still does not want to get drawn into any such talk. Instead, the Chelsea boss prefers to celebrations brief and immediately shift concentration onto the upcoming away match against Burnley, who hold the league's third-best home record and have yet to actually lose in 13 home Premier League games (6 wins, 7 draws).
"For sure today it was important to win against our rival for the title. When you have this type of situation you must exploit it. Arsenal showed us they are a great team with great players, and if you don’t play with good organisation, talent and will to fight, and with a good will to work together defensively and offensively, you risk losing this type of game."
"We must be pleased with the great atmosphere we played in today. I am pleased for our fans to see us play this type of football. Now it’s important to celebrate this win, but then, from tomorrow, it’s important to think about the next game against Burnley, a very dangerous team at home."
"But the league is not finished today. We must continue to work very hard if we want to realise a dream."
Conte knows a lot about winning, both as a player and as a coach, but he knows just as much about losing. One gets the sense that it’s these losses (including the 3-0 reverse against Arsenal earlier this season) that really drive the Chelsea head coach.
"No, [the lead is not invulnerable] because there are 14 games to play and 42 points to take. I don’t sleep and I don’t want my players to sleep. In my squad, I have a lot of players with good experience who have won a lot in their career, and they know we haven’t won the title now."
"In my career as a player, I won a lot, but I lost a lot. When you lose three Champions League finals and you win only one, you have great hunger. During my experience as a footballer I won a title with eight points more, and another time I lost in the same way. For this reason, I think I have a bit of experience to manage this situation and try to keep our antennas very high."
For all of Conte’s caution, the one undeniable fact is that Chelsea have improved tremendously since our first meeting against Arsenal.
"It’s changed a lot. After the Liverpool and Arsenal defeats I remember in the press conference saying 'we faced two great teams, and now we are not a team'. We were 11 players. In this way, anything can happen."
"I also said we must show on the pitch we are a great team, not only because we are at Chelsea. Now we are showing this. After that situation, the spirit, the will to be a team, the will to try something important this season totally changed. We started to work on different aspects to improve. For sure now we are another team."
Conte may very much be a team-first coach, and Chelsea seem to be playing better than the some of their parts, but sometimes, individual brilliance can still carry the day.
Enter Eden Hazard and his goal of the season candidate.
"He scored a great goal. He showed great shape today because if you haven’t a good shape, it’s very difficult to score this type of goal. We all know his talent and his strength. He’s a really, really talented player. He’s a really good man also, a good boy."
"Today, above all, I am pleased for his work without the ball defensively. He played with great attention and concentration. When we are able to work together in this way it’s simple for us."
The consecutive defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal marked a turning point for Chelsea this season. Getting four points out of six on offer this time around shows the magnitude of Chelsea’s progress (if the 13-game winning streak and the 16 wins from 18 weren’t clear enough).
There are still three months left in the season and two competitions in which Chelsea have a chance of winning silverware. No time to rest just yet!