As you’d expect, Antonio Conte was generally upbeat after Chelsea knocked Leicester City out of the FA Cup and advanced to the semi-finals, where they’ll play the kindest opponent left in Southampton.
This may not be the best group of players Chelsea has ever assembled — Conte hasn’t exactly made a secret of his dissatisfaction with the club’s import-export business over the summer — but today they showed that despite a series of demoralising losses and energy-sapping matches, they still have fight left in them.
“We must be pleased. I saw a good performance and great character from my team.”
”After the game in the Champions League, when we spent a lot of energy, they showed good heart to beat Leicester.”
No player showed more heart than N’Golo Kanté. We might have to assemble a search party to find what he can’t do since not only did he defend and carry the ball up the pitch under pressure, he also delivered the best cross of the match right onto Pedro’s noggin.
And not only Kanté but the rest of Conte’s men knew coming in that this would be another tough one, with Leicester riding an eleven game unbeaten streak at King Power and having fought Chelsea to a standstill in London.
“It was a tough game but we knew this. The last game at home [a 0-0 draw in January] we suffered a lot against Leicester.”
-Antonio Conte; source: BBC
Both the manager and the away support were delighted to see one particularly embattled new player finally score for the first time in fourteen appearances, dating back to Boxing Day against Bournemouth.
Conte says he's happy for Morata's goal but happier for his performance, adding that he was "strong" & played "with character" #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) March 18, 2018
Chelsea have been struggling to score of late, with just four goals in their previous five matches, so they badly need a confident Álvaro Morata to start banging in some goals again as they try to claw their way back into the top four.
Another player they need to come good is Pedro, who knocked in 13 last season but had been stuck on just 6 goals this term. Today’s goal — a header, of all things, from that gorgeous Kanté cross — gave Conte a chance to give a brief history lesson on the diminutive Spaniard he brought on in the 92nd minute.
Conte praises Pedro's performance & points out that the last header he scored for Chelsea was here last season #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) March 18, 2018
Speaking of substitutions, Conte explained why he removed Bakayoko at half-time, as well as Willian and Christensen in the second half.
I ask Conte about Bakayoko sub. He said he did it to prevent him getting a second yellow. Adds that Willian & Christensen were taken off because they were 'very tired' post-Barca #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) March 18, 2018
So now a tired Chelsea squad head back to London and a two-week international break. When they come back they’ll have an epic match waiting for them at Stamford Bridge: a meeting with North London rivals and fourth-placed Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur. Like the Leicester encounter, it will be the late game on Sunday and the television spotlight will be shining brightly.
But one player wasn’t in a huge hurry to get back on the bus and eventually to duty with Spain. Defender César Azpilicueta showed once again why he’s the Captain of our side.
Conte thanked the travelling fans in the press conference; Azpi did it on the pitch.