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> Conte lav­ishes praise on ruth­less Costa <

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AN­TO­NIO CONTE hailed a newly-fo­cused Diego Costa as “one of the best strik­ers in the world” af­ter the Spa­niard’s match­win­ning strike at Mid­dles­brough fired Chelsea to the top of the Premier League ta­ble. Costa scored the only goal of the game at the River­side, pounc­ing af­ter a first-half cor­ner re­bounded in­side the six-yard box, and now tops the Premier League goalscor­ing charts with 10 goals from 12 games. Per­haps just as sig­nif­i­cantly, he has not been booked since the mid­dle of Septem­ber, and whereas post­match dis­cus­sions would once fo­cus on a per­ceived lack of dis­ci­pline and a pen­chant for ar­gu­ing with of­fi­cials, it is now Costa’s foot­ball that is do­ing the talk­ing. “Diego is al­ways im­por­tant, not only for to­day,” said Conte. “He is our point of ref­er­ence in at­tack­ing. He is im­pres­sive in the way he is find­ing his goals, and it is im­por­tant to con­tinue this way be­cause we need his goals. “Is he fo­cused just on his foot­ball? It is im­por­tant to have this ques­tion. In the past, peo­ple have been ask­ing me about his be­hav­iour and his re­ac­tions, but

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(Wag­ner 45+1, Zu­ber 49) (Kos­tic 28, Muller 61), (Gril­litsch 38) (Meier 52, Barkok 90).

L22 20 18 18 18 16 16 16 15 13 10 7 6 5 now as a striker, I think he is one of the best in the world.”

With Liver­pool hav­ing failed to beat Southamp­ton on Satur­day, Chelsea’s vic­tory took them to the top of the ta­ble for the first time un­der Conte’s man­age­ment.

Hav­ing won their last six games with­out con­ced­ing a goal, they are one point clear of both Liver­pool and Manch­ester City, al­though Conte feels it is far too early to be talk­ing about their ti­tle-win­ning cre­den­tials.

“I think that now it is dif­fi­cult to reply to this,” he said. “Only a month and a half ago, you saw Chelsea con­ceded two de­feats to Liver­pool and Arse­nal.

“Af­ter this, Chelsea were not a favourite or a team who could fight for the ti­tle un­til the end.

“It’s hard to say if we’re the best side in the coun­try right now, but I’m pleased with the play­ers be­cause they know our fans de­mand that we must fight un­til the end.”

Things are about to get more dif­fi­cult for the league lead­ers, with next week­end’s home game with Lon­don ri­vals Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur pre­ced­ing a trip to Manch­ester City.

For all their im­proved form, Ai­tor Karanka’s side are just one point clear of the rel­e­ga­tion zone.

“Play­ing against a team like Chelsea, we knew it would be tough,” said the Boro head coach.

“One mis­take pun­ished us, but we have shown we can com­pete against the best teams in the league. You can’t be pleased to lose one game, but I am pleased with the at­ti­tude of the play­ers.” – AFP

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AFPPIX

Chelsea’s coach An­to­nio Conte (right) re­acts as he con­grat­u­lates Chelsea’s Diego Costa fol­low­ing their English Premier League match against Mid­dles­brough yes­ter­day. –

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