Blue ris­ing

> Conte plays it cool over Chelsea ti­tle bid af­ter mov­ing up to sec­ond

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

ANTONIO CONTE in­sists it is too soon to la­bel Chelsea as Premier League ti­tle con­tenders af­ter his side main­tained their im­pres­sive run with a 2-0 vic­tory at Southamp­ton.

Conte’s team have reeled off four suc­ces­sive league wins for the first time in 18 months and they sit just one point be­hind lead­ers Manchester City fol­low­ing their no-non­sense dis­play at St Mary’s yes­ter­day.

Eden Hazard opened the scor­ing with a clin­i­cal strike in the sixth minute and Diego Costa’s sub­lime curler in the sec­ond half wrapped up the points for the Blues.

Chelsea have dou­ble the num­ber of points they had at the same stage of a mis­er­able cam­paign last sea­son and the con­fi­dent na­ture of their per­for­mance against in-form Southamp­ton sug­gests Conte is be­gin­ning to make his pres­ence felt.

The Chelsea boss wouldn’t be drawn into declar­ing his side po­ten­tial cham­pi­ons, although he did ad­mit he is feel­ing in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent that his re­build­ing job is tak­ing shape.

“If you ask me a pre­dic­tion about the cham­pi­onship, it is very dif­fi­cult. It is im­por­tant to pass the first part of the sea­son, then af­ter Christ­mas you see if you can fight for the ti­tle,” the Ital­ian said.

“If you ask me if I’m con­fi­dent? Yeah, be­cause we are work­ing a lot and I’m see­ing a lot of pos­i­tive things.

“In this mo­ment it is not im­por­tant to look at the ta­ble. We are in a good po­si­tion but the most im­por­tant thing is to work very hard.

“Some­times you can win but you don’t see the right way, but now, game by game, I’m see­ing a lot of pos­i­tive things. I have con­fi­dence, but we can im­prove a lot.” Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (in blue) blues) re­acts af­ter af­ter miss­ing missinga chancea chanceto add to to add his to open­inghis open­ing­goal goal dur­ing dur­ing their their Premier Premier League League match match against against Southamp­ton Southamp­to­nat St Mary’sat St Sta­di­umMary’s Sta­di­u­min in Southamp­ton yes­ter­day.

With Conte’s de­ci­sion to switch to a three-man de­fence re­warded by four con­sec­u­tive clean sheets in the league and Hazard and Costa both back to their best, there is a new-found swag­ger surg­ing through Chelsea’s squad.

Conte was quick to salute the ef­forts of Hazard and Costa, but it was their fe­ro­cious work ethic that im­pressed him as much as their cre­ative con­tri­bu­tions.

“When you see Eden and Diego work­ing so hard, you are happy. They are strik­ers and usu­ally it’s a bit dif­fi­cult to work hard for the team,” he said.

Af­ter dis­ap­point­ing de­feats against Arse­nal and Liver­pool raised pointed questions about Conte just weeks into his reign, Chelsea’s re­vival has brought wel­come en­cour­age­ment to the for­mer Italy coach.

“We played against a strong team who are in a good mo­ment. To come here and win wasn’t easy,” he said.

“I am pleased with the work rate, with the ball and with­out the ball. This is the right way to reach great sat­is­fac­tion in this cham­pi­onship.

“To stay close to first place gives us great con­fi­dence.”

Southamp­ton’s first de­feat in six league games stalled their im­pres­sive run and boss Claude Puel ad­mit­ted Hazard, who played un­der the French­man at Lille, had been too hot to han­dle.

“Chelsea were able to play strong at the back and they could have space to counter-at­tack. With Eden and Costa it is hard to re­sist,” he said.

“We tried to find a so­lu­tion but af­ter the sec­ond goal it was dif­fi­cult to come back.

“I spoke with Eden af­ter the game. He came back, per­haps af­ter last sea­son was dif­fi­cult for him.

“He is at a very good level.” – AFP

– REUTERSPIX

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