Thursday 21 November 2019

Cool customer Conte keeps Blues calm

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte Photo: Getty
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte Photo: Getty

Matt Law

Chelsea's Premier League rivals hoping for news of a meltdown will be disappointed to find out there was little evidence of that in the camp following their 2-1 defeat by Crystal Palace.

If trouble is around the corner for Antonio Conte and his Chelsea table-toppers, then there were few clues to be taken away from Stamford Bridge.

Conte, who has ranted and raved his way through victories this season, remained "cool" in the dressing room, he said, and stressed the fact that he and his players would not be panicked by only their second home defeat of the season.

Eden Hazard laughed his way through questions about Real Madrid and repeated that he is happy at Chelsea.

And Diego Costa, a man who could start an argument in an empty room, hung around in the tunnel to give his shirt and a warm hug to a young supporter who was there with Chelsea's match-day wishes programme for ill children.

Chelsea's lead at the top of the Premier League table may have been cut to seven points thanks to two goals in three minutes from Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke, but Conte and his players did nothing to offer encouragement to any rivals who are banking on an implosion.

"I didn't talk with the players after the game - I don't like to after a game," said Conte.

"I think it's not right. If you win or if you lose, it's not right to talk after the game because you are full of emotion and sometimes you are not cool. It's better always to talk the day after."

Asked if there would be any greater inquest than normal into what went wrong against Palace, Conte added: "Our pathway is always the same whether we win or lose. We will see the game together with positive and negative situations to try to improve. But I don't change my mentality whether we win or lose."

Hazard had helped Chelsea take an early lead, which only lasted for four minutes, by setting up Cesc Fabregas for the opening goal, but not even the brilliant Belgian could help the Blues find an equaliser after they fell behind.

However, any sense that this defeat should offer Real Madrid any encouragement in their pursuit of Hazard was swiftly dampened by the man himself.

Asked if he was interested in a move to the Bernabeu, Hazard laughed and replied: "You want to get me in trouble (with this question)? No, I'm fine at Chelsea. I have things to finish. I still have a contract until 2020. I'm fine here."

Manchester City visit Stamford Bridge on Wednesday when another defeat would increase fears of a wobble, but Conte is not worried about the quality of the opposition.

"I think it's another game," he said. "I know Man City started the season wanting to win the title and they have a really strong squad. But I think it's right to think about ourselves. To go game by game.

"In England every game is very tough, whether the name of your opponent is City or another team."

At the end of a week in which Zaha had felt it necessary to defend himself against remarks by England manager Gareth Southgate regarding his decision to play for the Ivory Coast, the 24-year-old's performance will only heighten interest in him from Tottenham Hotspur and elsewhere. Palace manager Sam Allardyce, though, insists he is not unduly worried.

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