Chelsea close in on Ar­se­nal’s record with 13th vic­tory in a row

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - PREMIER LEAGUE - By Matt Law FOOT­BALL NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Stam­ford Bridge

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

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