Thursday 22 March 2018

Conte explains his celebration dive into fans as Hazard hails current Chelsea as better than Mourinho's champions

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and Cesar Azpilicueta celebrate after the game
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and Cesar Azpilicueta celebrate after the game
Antonio Conte making his point. Photo: John Walton/PA

Jeremy Wilson

The rip just above the knee of Antonio Conte's perfectly-pressed suit trousers felt almost like a victory scar.

The damage had been inflicted when he ran down the touchline to celebrate Chelsea's second goal and found himself hanging over the hoardings and revelling in the ­attention of his team's fans and even hugging some substitutes.

Such moments might seem like a footnote in the wider context of such a well-executed victory but, as the Chelsea manager carefully outlined the key ingredients in any ­title-winning team, it was possible to see the significance in this gesture.

First, he had noted an obvious requirement for good players with high ability.

Second, he highlighted the need to create an organised team in which every player knows his job with and without the ball.

Yet there was one final quality that he valued above all others. It was the creation of a "family spirit". It is why gestures like attending the staff Christmas party and, yes, launching himself into group hugs with random supporters at Stamford Bridge, have been such a significant part of Conte's success.

He has galvanised and organised some outstanding players but it is the force of a personality that is both charming and fiercely intense that forms the foundation of an ­extraordinary personal run of 61 wins in his last 73 club games at Chelsea and Juventus.

"I think in this six months we are building something important in this club," he concluded, looking down at his ruined trousers.

"I put on myself not 100 per cent but 120, 130 per cent. I live the game with great intensity, with great passion. Sometimes you understand there are very important moments. I think it's good to share this emotion with my players, my staff, and sometimes also with our fans."

After Marcos Alonso's disputed first goal following his aerial challenge on Hector Bellerín, Eden Hazard's slaloming second in the 53rd minute was one such moment. It killed the game as a contest but it was instructive also to hear Hazard explain how he felt inspired by being on the receiving end of heavy tackles from Shkodran Mustafi and Francis Coquelin. What he called "a kick" from Coquelin just before he scored left him limping after the game.

"It's true; when I get a lot of kicks, I feel really in the game. When people don't touch me, that means I'm not doing well," he said. "Of this style of goal, it was one of the best I've scored. To do something magic, for me or for the other team-mates, that's what I try and do."

Proving his appeal, Andrei Shevchenko was seen leaving the ground with Roman Abramovich and was wearing a replica kit with the name 'Hazard' on the back.

At this rate, Chelsea will not just win the league but could even threaten their own Premier League record points haul of 95 under Jose Mourinho in 2004-05. Hazard is certainly sure that this team are ­superior to the last Chelsea side who won the league under Mourinho two years ago.

"I think we are in better form, as a team, not just me," he said. "I think I am a better player, more complete, than I was."

The all-round demands that are made of him by Conte were certainly evident here. "When we don't have the ball, he wants me to ­defend and, when we have the ball, counter-attack and be free," Hazard explained.

It is something that Theo Walcott could certainly learn from after his failure to track Alonso led to Chelsea's first goal. It was an incident that not only left Bellerín concussed but seemed also to sap much of the collective spirit from his team-mates.

Conte then explained why his own still raw personal disappointments, both as a player and manager, should ensure no complacency in the final 14 matches of the season.

He recalled how in 2000 Juventus were five points clear with four games remaining but lost the Italian Serie A title to Lazio after losing on the final day of the season at Perugia. Then, how Juve overcame a six-point deficit to Inter Milan in the final five games of the 2001-02 Serie A season.

He also pointed out his playing career had contained defeats in a World Cup, European Championship and several Champions League finals.

"When you arrive at this point sometimes, you think that everything is simple but it's not true," he said. "We must pay great attention to prepare for every game with great attention. I have great experience.

"When you play and captain for years for Juventus you have a lot of these situations. I won five titles as a footballer but a lot of times I ­arrived in second place. I know I was lucky to win a lot in my career but also I lost a lot. It's not good. The people only remember who wins."

He is mostly right; and he is building a Chelsea team here that will live long in the memory. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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