Chelsea were missing Eden Hazard from the squad sent to play at the Bet365 Stadium, and the Blues did not have an easy time in getting past Stoke City. Thankfully a 87th minute effort by Gary Cahill brought Chelsea the 2-1 lead and three points to take home, (temporarily) increasing their advantage at the top of the table to 13 points.
Antonio Conte, who found it hard to contain himself after Cahill's late score, was glad for the win over yet another difficult side.
"For sure this is an important win. It is not easy at this point in the season to come here and play Stoke, a strong team with good quality and good tactical organisation, but we showed from the start to the end a great will to win and I am very pleased for this."
"My players were prepared to fight for this game because it was not easy. We have played two games away against West Ham and Stoke and to win both is very important at this part of the season."
After Manchester United's targeting of Eden's calves during our meeting in the FA Cup, Stoke City did the same to striker Diego Costa in an attempt to rile up our passionate field general. Although Diego did end up getting an early yellow card for dissent, the Brazilian-Spaniard just about managed to keep his cool through the rest of the match. Despite not getting on the scoresheet, he also gave Stoke’s defensive line plenty of trouble, leading to Conte giving props to his player for doing his job.
"It is not simple to receive a yellow card after a few minutes but Diego has been showing this season, not only this game, to be very disciplined. He showed me great commitment and thought for the team, not only for himself, and I want this type of behaviour from my players. He was great in a difficult game and always created danger for Stoke’s defensive line."
"It is normal for a team to try to make a player angry so he reacts and commits another foul, but the great news is Diego is showing to be a great player in this aspect because I know in the past he has sometimes not finished games."
As for the reason behind Eden's absence from the line-ups yesterday, Conte revealed that he did not want to risk worsening a calf problem the attacker felt in the team's last training season (thanks, United!).
"Hazard in the last training felt a bit of a problem in his calf and for this reason I preferred not to risk him."
In their pursuit for the lead, Conte brought on midfielder Cesc Fàbregas in the final 20 minutes of the match and changed the team's shape from our usual 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1 - similar to what had been tried by the manager in our 1-1 draw to Burnley earlier this season at the Turf Moor. This time around the bet paid off:
"This is not the first time because it happened against Burnley. If you want to take more risk and try to take three points and not only one, you have to try to change but when you change, there is the great possibility to score a goal but also to concede and you must know this. Sometimes I try to risk and other times I prefer to keep the result."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
While Chelsea continue to enjoy a comfortable lead over their rivals in their chase for the Premier League title, Conte prefers not to look at our opponents. For him, the players need to keep their focus on themselves while carrying on the will to win they brought onto display this weekend.
"I like to think our opponents will win and reduce the gap to 10 points on Sunday. We have to look at ourselves, not the others. It was important for us to win and then if a rival has a poor result of course we are happy, but for us to play our game in this way with great concentration, will to play football and to fight. We were ready to fight and I'm pleased with this."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Sky Sports