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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Conte says Chelsea players deserve credit for record-equalling winning run

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte celebrates after the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte celebrates after the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte hailed his side's character after they beat Crystal Palace 1-0 to c linch a club-record equalling 11th successive league win.

The Italian boss has earned plenty of praise during the Blues' winning streak, engineered by a switch to his preferred 3-4-3 formation, but Conte refused to take the credit after this latest win.

It was one of the players rejuvenated under him, Diego Costa, who headed the only goal of the game to send the Blues nine points clear of the chasing pack.

"The run is fantastic. Congratulations to my players, not me," Conte said.

"I am pleased for them because they deserve this."

When Conte arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer he inherited a squad that had endured a dismal defence of their Premier League title.

Jose Mourinho was the high-profile casualty - his exit coming a year ago - and on December 17 last year the Blues were 14th in the league table having just sacked the Portuguese.

Conte's restoration act has been achieved with a similar squad to last season, with a few additions such as N'Golo Kante, and the Blues now look like a different side.

"I think, starting this season, the manager must be a tailor and try and find the right fit for the team," Conte added.

"For sure, for me, it wasn't easy to arrive and understand very quickly the characteristics of my players. I needed a bit of time.

"I tried a different solution before changing the formation, but I think the most important thing is the mentality, our strong mentality.

"Also hard work during the week, tactical week, physical work, analysis work, good food.

"We touched different aspects to try and improve. But I must be honest: you can bring your idea of football but if you don't have players who follow you, it doesn't matter.

"Anything can happen. It's important we continue to work in this way and see the will to improve."

The win was soured by key players Costa and Kante picking up their fifth yellow cards of the campaign, which means they will both miss the Boxing Day game against Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge and Conte is disappointed that his top-form striker will be unavailable.

He said: " I must be honest, I hoped for Diego to arrive at the game against Stoke without the yellow card. It didn't happen. It's a pity.

"It's a pity because he's in a good moment of form.

"He didn't deserve the yellow card today, I must be honest, but against Bournemouth we have eight days to find a different solution.

"For me, this can be an opportunity to see other solutions or other ideas. But, if you ask me if I'm disappointed to lose him and Kante, yes I'm disappointed."

The Eagles have only won one game in their past 10 league appearances and manager Alan Pardew knows that things need to start improving to get them away from the relegation zone.

"We've got to get some points on the board and start winning some games. Today was always going to be difficult," he said.

"Chelsea are very sound defensively and didn't really give us any chance to get at them as much as we'd have liked.

"They were confident in their defending, good shape and discipline to their actions, and did enough offensively to edge it.

"It was just unfortunate for us to concede at that time. My message to the team is: yes, we can improve. We can take lessons from Chelsea's performance defensively. But we don't take away from the effort and commitment we put on that pitch."

Pardew was full of praise for Chelsea's defensive display, saying it was as good as any they had faced this year adding: "T hey didn't give us anything.

"They defended superbly well today. That was as good a defensive display, we couldn't find a way through.

"For our offensive players it was the toughest game they've had."

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