Chelsea close in on Arsenal’s record with 13th victory in a row
Antonio Conte should be the most relaxed man in football heading into 2017 thanks to Chelsea’s winning run that kept them on course to equal a Premier League record against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night.
But win number 13 against Stoke City was an emotional roller coaster for Chelsea’s jack-in-the-box head coach, who chastised and congratulated his players in equal measure during a stressful 90 minutes.
Conte watched his team throw away the lead twice against Stoke and was angered by the fact that, in his opinion, an offside was missed in the build-up to the visitors’ first equaliser.
A brace from Willian and goals from Gary Cahill and Diego Costa proved to be enough to secure a victory that equalled the record for the number of consecutive top-flight wins in a single season and, finally, allowed Conte to celebrate wildly up the touchline.
“My emotions depend a lot upon the type of game we face and the difficulty of the game,” said Conte. “When you take the lead and then start the second half by conceding a goal, clearly offside, and it’s my fault… I train every day my defenders to keep the right line before the referee whistles. My players were very good, the linesman not so much. After the second goal, it wasn’t easy to get the good reaction and show the great character, above all after 12 wins in a row.”
It is Arsenal’s overall record of 14 that Premier League leaders Chelsea really want to equal against Spurs and Conte is impressed with the way his players are refusing to take their foot off the gas.
“When you win a lot, there is a great danger to be satisfied. To be relaxed and think that, in the end, we’ve won a lot in the past and a draw, if we don’t win, is not important,” said Conte.
“My players showed me great will, great will to fight, great will to win, great will to take this great achievement for us. I’m pleased for them and they deserve this. I’m their coach, but they deserved this.
“Now it’s not easy after 13 wins in a row, you face teams that want to beat you, not only to take three points but for many reasons. It’s more difficult.
“We must know this. But when you have this type of player, you can go to sleep happy.”
On-loan goalkeeper Lee Grant was superb for Stoke in a first half in which the visitors were a match for Chelsea for long periods but still fell behind.
Grant’s first save of note came in the 18th minute, when he stopped Eden Hazard’s volley and the ball fortuitously rebounded off Bruno Martins Indi and straight back into his hands.
There was better to come from Grant 12 minutes before the break, but it was from one of his saves that Chelsea took the lead.
Costa brought down a long pass from David Luiz, but Grant first reacted quickly to punch the ball off the striker’s foot and then recovered to palm Hazard’s follow up around the post.
From the resulting corner, Cesc Fabregas picked out Cahill who jumped higher than Ryan Shawcross to head the ball past the helpless Grant.
But Stoke were level just 55 seconds into the restart, as the Chelsea defence and, according to Conte, the linesman were caught sleeping.
Charlie Adam pumped a high freekick into the penalty area, Peter Crouch beat Cahill in the air and the striker’s header was converted by Martins Indi, who was quicker to react than N’Golo Kanté.
Willian should have restored the hosts’ lead shortly afterwards, but fired wide after being teed up on the edge of the area. The Brazilian was more accurate in the 57th minute, when he did manage to put Chelsea back in front.
The goal owed much to Victor Moses, who turned Erik Pieters inside out before sending a low cross into the area that Hazard cushioned and Willian lashed the ball into the net.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes responded by sending on Bojan and Giannelli Imbula, and the Spaniard made an immediate impact.
He capitalised on an air kick from Kanté to send the ball out for Mame Diouf, who picked out Crouch to equalise – much to the annoyance of Conte.
But while the Italian was still berating his team’s defending, Chelsea went straight up the other end and took the lead for the third time in the game.
Fabregas registered his 100th Premier League assist by sending Willian through on goal to smash the ball into the net and spark wild celebrations
Jump to it: Diego Costa celebrates Chelsea’s fourth goal against Stoke