Wednesday 16 August 2017

Conte jubilant as Blues cruise towards title

Everton 0 Chelsea 3

Chelsea’s Gary Cahill finds himself in the right place to bundle home their second goal. Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty Images
Chelsea’s Gary Cahill finds himself in the right place to bundle home their second goal. Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

It is time for Chelsea to start mapping the route for the title parade and considering appropriate party venues.

Antonio Conte's side are almost there now. Their fans know it. Their manager knows it. As Conte made the considerable leap on to the back of Thibaut Courtois, part of exuberant celebrations in front of the away fans here, he betrayed the emotions of a manager who realises it is now a matter of when, not if.

All the boxes in that questionnaire assessing likely title winners were ticked. This is a side with stamina and class, able to repel the opponent during pedestrian periods, but liberally sprinkle stardust in attack as and when necessary.

When Conte seeks an extra yard, his side locate it. Each time the bouncing Italian demands an increase in the gears he is obliged.

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte celebrates their Premier League victory over Everton at Goodison Park yesterday. Photo: Nigel French/PA
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte celebrates their Premier League victory over Everton at Goodison Park yesterday. Photo: Nigel French/PA

Never mind the work-rate of his players, Conte's own heat map in the technical area must be radioactive. Given how animated he is during the game, the only surprise here was that he still had the energy to lead the post-match revelry.

The Chelsea manager was more circumspect in his observations than his deeds, but admitted the jubilation following a most meaningful victory had extended to the visiting dressing room.

"After the game, the message to the players was not with words, only hugs," he said. "It was important to win, but also to show enthusiasm to reach your target. We must feel this season could go from good to fantastic.

"My players showed me great patience and waited for the right moment to hit and then score the second and third goal. A clean sheet was important. They won eight in a row at Goodison Park before today.

"We must celebrate the right way with our fans, to have great enthusiasm and great patience. We have to be calm."

Not all the signals from Chelsea were positive before their brutal finale, but that made it more impressive. David Luiz was limping, so too Eden Hazard. Diego Costa was drifting moodily, overhitting passes, allowing himself to be shrugged off the ball. Three Chelsea players, including Costa, had been booked. Even N'Golo Kante was finding the attention of Tom Davies irritating.

Chelsea's Victor Moses and Everton's Leighton Baines battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Goodison Park. Photo: Nigel French/PA
Chelsea's Victor Moses and Everton's Leighton Baines battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Goodison Park. Photo: Nigel French/PA

Merciless

However, once they take control they are merciless. Chelsea did it all in the final 24 minutes, the momentum shifting when Pedro worked the ball on to his left foot and found the top corner.

It had been an unsatisfying game until then, Chelsea waiting for Everton to take risks they were unwilling to take; Everton hoping the anxiety of the occasion would paralyse the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku was waiting for a pass, Ross Barkley was trying to find one and neither goalkeeper was being overexerted.

Then Pedro intervened, with Cahill scruffily adding a second after Hazard's free-kick was not cleared. Willian added the polish after the move of the game on 87 minutes. A 3-0 win would have seemed improbable and highly flattering after an hour.

"Maybe in the last 30 minutes, yes, we saw the champions," said the Everton manager, Ronald Koeman. "We did some mistakes and that makes them dangerous. If they get more space they kill the game. Their offensive part compared to our offensive part was the difference."

Everton's Enner Valencia in action with Chelsea's David Luiz. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Everton's Enner Valencia in action with Chelsea's David Luiz. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

Psychologically, it must have been torment for those Tottenham players monitoring from White Hart Lane. If there was going to be a slip, this was going to be the venue.

True, Chelsea were at full strength, Everton stricken - Morgan Schneiderlin the latest absentee with a groin strain - so this was more genteel a welcome than it might have been a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless, this has always been one of those stadiums that doubles up as a barometer of championship pedigree. Koeman also had a plan. Or more precisely, he was happy to steal someone else's. Everton adopted the Jose Mourinho blueprint that proved so successful when Chelsea were beaten at Old Trafford recently, the Dutchman deploying Idrissa Gueye in the Ander Herrera role to man-mark Hazard.

The Senegal midfielder was diligent rather than flawless as the shadow, with Hazard able to rid himself on enough occasions to maintain his usual menace.

Hazard should have scored on 11 minutes when Costa turned Ashley Williams and sent the Belgian clear against Maarten Stekelenburg. Hazard dribbled past the Dutch keeper, but the angle was too narrow.

At the other end, Koeman ordered three strikers to scurry Chelsea's three centre-backs into uncomfortable areas.

There was more speed than wit about the strategy, but Dominic Calvert-Lewin almost justified his surprise inclusion within two minutes, a scruffy shot rebounding off a post.

But Chelsea are too smart, too persistent and too intimidating to allow drab periods diminish their self-belief. Pedro's brilliance turned this game into a procession. He has surely ensured the same about Chelsea's remaining fixtures.

"Are you watching Tottenham?" sang the away fans as the players pumped their fists and Conte jigged.

You could hear the sighs in north London. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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