Antonio Conte was rightly pleased with Chelsea’s 4-0 win on Saturday over Stoke City, while acknowledging that the team “suffered” a fair bit in the first half — i.e. Stoke were better and we had to keep our composure (unlike against Burnley) to keep the scoreline as it was. Fortunately we did just that, and also had Álvaro Morata, and Morata couldn’t miss today.
“Alvaro performed very well. He scored a hat-trick and for a striker this is very important, and don’t forget the last game it happened the same with Batshuayi. It means we create chances for our strikers.
“I am pleased for his performance and the performance of the team. It is not easy to win away games against Stoke, this game is always difficult. I remember very well last season when we struggled a lot to win and we won at the end of the game.
“Today we started very well and then we were good when suffering [pressure from Stoke]. It was important not to lose our composure and to stay always in the game, and then we scored two goals and we created many chances to improve the score. It was 4-0 but it was a difficult game.”
Just as importantly as our clinical finishing, Chelsea managed to finish with 11 players on the pitch. It looked concerning for a minute with Marcos Alonso, who did not endear himself to the local crowd who were thus pressuring the referee into harsh decisions. After getting a slap in the face but not winning the free kick, Alonso was given a yellow for a nothing foul, and then escaped a yellow for a much stronger foul a few seconds after (his intentions were good, but he was late to the ball). With the Britannia baying for blood, Conte took the safe option and switched things up, bringing on Cahill for Marcos and switching Azpilicueta to left wing-back.
Afterwards, Conte explained this away as a tactical decision. And while there’s certainly something to that — though Cahill and Rüdiger switched after a few minutes of Cahill being unable to deal with Crouch — reactive changes tend to happen after the thing they are reacting to, rather than before. Let’s call it convenient timing.
“Alonso was a tactical substitution because I saw Mark Hughes was about to bring on Peter Crouch. I remember last season we always suffered against him and for this reason, I preferred to reinforce the defence with Cahill and play Azpilicueta as wing-back”
“Alonso never risked taking a second yellow card. The person who risked a lot was Peter Crouch with a bad tackle.”
Crouch’s tackle was yet another case of a Cahill- or David Luiz-esque tackle going unpunished against Chelsea, at least the third such tackle in just six games. Fortunately, Fàbregas escaped without any major damage.
Another player who seemed none worse for the wear despite a scary scene was Thibaut Courtois, who landed awkwardly on his neck after being taken out in the air by a combination of Cahill and Crouch on a set piece. Courtois remained down and still for a fair bit before the medics reached him, but it could be that he was just gathering his bearings and making sure everything was in proper order before moving. He seemed mostly concerned about his neck and was also probably not wanting to risk any movement until he knew it was safe to do so.
“I spoke with our doctor about Thibaut, above all about whether I could make a different substitution and he said Thibaut was okay and you can make another substitution. Now he is okay and ready to play the next game against Atletico Madrid.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Good news all around!