As most of us expected heading into our match against Manchester City yesterday, Chelsea did not enjoy the statistical dominance we usually do against most of our Premier League opponents. However, we were keenly efficient with the chances created, while the visitors were mostly wasteful.
It was the perfect response to the weekend’s shock defeat to Crystal Palace.
"It was a big win for us, it wasn’t easy because when you play against City it’s normal to suffer in some parts of the game, but I think we suffered as a team in the right way."
"The first half was very open with chances at both ends. Normally when this happens I don’t like it because I want more balance. In the second half we defended very well. It was a good win, above all because we played after a bad defeat when we didn’t deserve to lose. At this time of the season the pressure is very high and to drop points is not good because you give your opponent hope."
"It’s a good win at a time of the season which is very important. To play against City is not easy because they are a top team. They have a great squad with great players and a great coach, the best in the world. When you face that combination it’s very tough."
Chelsea's starting line-up contained one big surprise, as young Kurt Zouma made his first Premier League start in over a year, with usual right-sided center back César Azpilicueta sliding to the wing to deputize for the injured Victor Moses. The experiment lasted just 45 minutes, as Conte hauled off Zouma to add more midfield stability in Nemanja Matic and restore the usual look to the three-man backline.
According to Conte, the substitution for purely tactical, rather than performance-based.
"I think Kurt [Zouma] played a really good game but the substitution was tactical because in the first half we were suffering a lot in midfield and they were finding spaces between the lines, so I wanted to reinforce the midfield with Matic, bring Azpi into his position and play Pedro as wing-back."
"It was more offensive because your wing-back is more of a winger than a defender. In the second half we had more balance and didn’t give them chances to score. We controlled the game well."
At the other end, it was once again Eden Hazard stepping up to the plate on a big occasion, scoring both goals needed to take all three points. Conte made sure to praise the Belgian star who already has 13 goals in the league this season - only one goal behind his best overall record at Chelsea.
"He’s an important player and he’s growing in his mentality. He’s having a really good season but for all my players, and for me, we will remember it only if we win. Only winners write history. I have intelligent players and they know the situation."
For much of the game, it looked like Chelsea might reopen a ten-point lead at the top of the table, as Spurs were losing to Swansea as the clock ticked towards 90. However, two goals in the space of three minutes at the end of regulation, plus a third in the closing moments of added-on time gave Tottenham all three points and has kept the gap to just seven.
Still, Chelsea now only need 18 points to clinch the Premier League title.
"First of all I think it’s better to look at ourselves. The Tottenham result is important but the most important results is ours, we have to continue to think like that. The best way is to think Tottenham can win eight games. To win the title we need 18 points and that’s the best way for us."
-Antonio Conte; Source: Chelsea FC
With fate in our own hands, the title is ours to lose. Up next are Bournemouth on Saturday, where another three points would not go amiss. The Cherries held Liverpool to a 2-2 draw at Anfield yesterday; they will be no pushovers.