Nineteen games ago, Chelsea began the 2017-18 season in rather disastrous fashion, conceding three times in the first half and finishing with just nine men in a 3-2 reverse at home against Burnley. Compared to that, starting the second half of the season with a solid 2-0 win over Brighton, also at home, is almost blissful (and that’s despite the scoreless first half).
(Manchester United dropping two points at home to Burnley at the same time is also rather funny.)
While Antonio Conte was not quite as smitten, he still saw fit to crack a joke or two (“Yeah, but he has to score, too” when asked about Azpilicueta’s ridiculous assist totals) and even raise a toast to the assembled media, most of whom will be back to work in speculating over all things Chelsea in no time.
Antonio Conte finishes his press conference by raising a Christmas toast. pic.twitter.com/irS6zIxHqj
— Dan Levene (@danlevene) December 26, 2017
As far as the match itself, which was basically a re-run of Saturday’s tilt against Everton, Conte highlighted the fact that we finally were able to score a goal. After all, it’s hard to win without scoring goals! In fact, Chelsea scored twice as many goals in the second half (2) as in the previous five Premier League halves combined (1). It wasn’t quite a goal bonanza (still many missed chances), but it’ll do for now.
“It was a good performance, I saw the stats and today we shot 25 times, eight on target, we had 13 corners and a lot of possession. We dominated the game, like against Everton, but the difference today was we scored twice. We had many chances to improve the final result but I think I saw good intensity and great commitment from my players. We wanted to win and it’s very important to start the second part of the season with a win. We are doing a good job and we have to continue in this way.”
Motivation may be harder to come by with the title basically gone — Manchester City would have to suffer a collapse of beyond epic proportions at this point — but we should not forget that finishing top four is of paramount importance. And if we can do it by pipping José Mourinho and Manchester United to second, that would make it all that sweeter.
“I think in this league there is great motivation for all to try to stay there and fight until the end. I don’t know if we can do this for the title because it depends on Man City who are doing something extraordinary. To win every game and draw one means you are having a fantastic run.
“There is great motivation to find a place in the Champions League next year, there are four places for six top teams. Our start wasn’t easy for many reasons but we want to work and improve. There are many competitions and we must be very proud to play every game.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
Chelsea are on pace for 80 points, which is usually good enough for a solid 2nd or 3rd, and at times (2010-11, 2015-16 for example), even good enough for a title challenge. Keeping up that effort will not be easy however, especially once we head into the new year and the spring and the strength of schedule ramps up again.
Another must-win thus follows on Saturday. Forza!