Conte lavishes praise on ruthless Costa
ANTONIO Conte hailed a newly focused Diego Costa as “one of the best strikers in the world” after the Spaniard’s match-winning strike at Middlesbrough propelled 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 goal-scoring charts with 10 goals in 12 games.
Perhaps just as significantly, he has not been booked since the middle of September, and where post-match discussions once focused on a perceived lack of discipline and a penchant for arguing with officials, it is now Costa’s performance 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 now as a striker, I think he is one of the best in the world.
“He has to continue this way, and he is showing his patience in the right way and is focused on helping the team, with and without the ball.”
With Liverpool failing to beat Southampton on November 19, Chelsea’s victory took them to the top of the table for the first time under Conte.
Having won their last six games without conceding a goal, they are one point clear of both Liverpool and Manchester City, although Conte said it is still too early to be talking about the title.
“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.
“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. I’m seeing with my own eyes that we have special players.”
Things are about to get more difficult for the league leaders, with next weekend’s home game against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur preceding a trip to Manchester City.
Having claimed recent draws against Arsenal and City, Middlesbrough produced another spirited display against one of the title contenders. However, for all their improved form, Aitor Karanka’s side is 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.” –