Chelsea entered the month of April with a comfortable ten-point lead over second place Tottenham Hotspur, but two losses (one unfortunate, the other well deserved) combined with Spurs’ red hot form has seen that lead diminish to just four points. Title race back on! Maybe.
If the squad’s confidence had dipped after the defeat at Old Trafford, we certainly haven’t been been able to tell. Spurs were duly dispatched at Wembley over the weekend in the FA Cup semifinal, the 4-2 scoreline repeating itself last night against Southampton at the Bridge as the Blues collected all three points.
It was far from a perfect performance, but was an important step towards winning the title nonetheless. At this point in the season, that’s what matters above all else.
"The most important thing is to look at ourselves, tonight was a big win for us. Above all, when you have to play two-and-a-half days after a really strong game when we reached the final of the FA Cup. Now for us it’s very important to try to fight and try to win the title."
"It wasn’t easy, we faced a very strong team who were rested for 10 days. They had no pressure so you can enjoy these type of games when you face the team who are top of the league. My players showed me a great will and desire to win the game. It’s important to rest tomorrow and prepare for another tough game at Everton."
"We passed a big psychological step after the defeat to United because we lost three points and then we had to prepare for a semi-final against Tottenham and another tough game in the league. I think we have had a really important test and our answer was very good so for this reason I must be pleased."
"We must think the race is open. We reached the final of the FA Cup but the league is totally open. We are ready to fight until the end and we must be proud of what we are doing this season. It’s normal we have to push to try to keep this position until the end."
The message has been the same for several games now. It’s all about will and desire and concentration and paying attention. And of course a bit of individual quality helps, too, like Eden Hazard scoring his 15th league goal of the season, or Gary Cahill heading it yet another crucial goal.
And then there was Diego Costa, mired in the midst of a seven-match scoreless run, busily collecting yellow cards and resorting to his usual antics off the ball that have largely been absent from his game over most of 2016. On Tuesday, we saw the return of early-season Diego, working hard off the ball, making smart runs down the channels, occupying defenders, setting up his teammates, and, most importantly, scoring both second-half goals as Chelsea put the game to bed.
Conte, of course, never doubted his main man.
"For strikers it’s very important to score because the goal is your life. I always said I was very pleased with his commitment and work for the team. Sometimes he was lacking in different circumstances but I was always confident about him."
"If you remember, in the Tottenham press conference I said he was saving his goals for the final part of the season. It’s important for his confidence and for us. He scored two beautiful goals where he showed good quality and good combinations between him and his team-mates."
"The crowd were great with Diego and all my players. In this part of the season everyone must understand the real importance to reach our targets. Everyone feels a bit of pressure, the players, the club and the fans who want to win after this incredible season."
"It’s important to stay together and understand this moment, to be ready to push our team in the right way. For this reason I want to say thanks to our fans because they showed great passion."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Chelsea's next game will be away from the friendly confines of Stamford Bridge, up north at Goodison Park, which has not been the happiest hunting grounds for the Blues—and that’s before we consider that Everton are currently seven matches unbeaten at home, and also feature the Premier League’s leading goalscorer, our good friend (and potential transfer target) Romelu Lukaku.
The 5-0 home win against Everton was perhaps Chelsea’s best performance all season. While we’re unlikely to come anywhere near that same scoreline on Sunday, sticking to the basics that Conte’s been preaching in the last few months — will and desire and ambition and commitment and concentration and hard work — should give us a great chance.
Five games to go.