Sunday 22 September 2019

Last laugh for Costa as Conte dismisses FA 'joke'

Chelsea 1 West Brom 0

Diego Costa turns away in celebration after socring the winner for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Diego Costa turns away in celebration after socring the winner for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Antonio Conte laughed off the prospect of Chelsea being deducted points due to player misbehaviour as a "joke", after Diego Costa extended their winning sequence to nine games.

The in-form striker finally found a way through West Brom's packed rearguard with 14 minutes remaining at Stamford Bridge to register his fifth goal in six games and his 12th in the Premier League this season.

Costa also got through another 90 minutes without picking up a yellow card, meaning he has now gone 10 games in all competitions without being booked to avoid suspension.

This is the 28-year-old's longest run without a yellow card since the 2010/11 season, having last been cautioned against Arsenal on September 24 - an offence that left him one booking away from suspension.

However, while Costa has cleaned up his act, Chelsea are in trouble with the English FA for failing to control their players at Manchester City last Saturday.

And, having broken the FA rules on player behaviour four times in the past 19 months, Conte's side are facing a harsher punishment than usual.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard in action with West Bromwich Albion's Craig Dawson. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Chelsea's Eden Hazard in action with West Bromwich Albion's Craig Dawson. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters

They were fined £375,000, reduced to £290,000 on appeal, back in May after the infamous 'Battle of Stamford Bridge' which marked the end of Tottenham Hotspur's title challenge.

Chelsea were warned at the time that repeated breaches would eventually mean a points deduction, but Conte made clear his scorn for that possibility in his press conference at Stamford Bridge.

"Are you joking?" he said when asked about the possibility of a ban. "If you are involved in a situation, and it is not your fault, why must you pay? I don't understand it.

"At the end of the game, my Chelsea players tried to keep calm. I do not understand this. We are trying to improve in all aspects, including this (disciplinary).

West Bromwich Albion's Jonny Evans (left) and Chelsea's Nemanja Matic battle for the ball. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
West Bromwich Albion's Jonny Evans (left) and Chelsea's Nemanja Matic battle for the ball. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Honest

"For this reason, I reply, you must be joking. You must be honest, and understand which team is at fault."

Conte pointed to the fact that most of the previous incidents were under the reigns of Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink.

"We had a bad record in the past, but now we are different," he insisted. "I don't know what happened in the past, but I know what happened in the present. For this reason, I ask if you are joking or not."

Conte was delighted with the form of Costa, and the fact that he is just four games away from reaching the January yellow card amnesty without triggering a suspension.

"January is arriving, no? It's incredible," Conte said with a smile.

"If you think that, after Arsenal defeat, Diego had four yellow cards and was on the edge (of a suspension). But he has continued to stay on the edge. It's incredible.

"I think he can arrive in January without a yellow card. It's important to continue like this."

Conte is also delighted by Costa's hard work on the training ground.

"I'm happy for him, I'm happy for the team, for Chelsea and the fans. He's showing great passion, Diego.

"He likes to play football. He is showing great passion in every game, great commitment, good without or with the ball to help the team. It's fantastic. It's important to continue this way, but I'm very happy for him."

There were 14 minutes left and Chelsea were just starting to look nervous when Costa struck with a brilliant solo goal.

This was certainly not the best Chelsea have played recently, and might be the most modest display of their nine-game winning run, but teams that win titles need to be able to win games in different ways.

Here they relied on a moment of individual brilliance from a player at the top of his game.

The goal was pure Costa. He chased a hopeful forward ball from Cesc Fabregas down the right and brushed Gareth McAuley aside as if he were a teenage hopeful getting to train with the first-team for the afternoon.

Then, charging straight at goal, he bent the ball with his left foot away from Ben Foster and into the far top corner of the net.

When Costa is at his best, as he is now, he mixes physical aggression with underrated technical class.

Up until his goal, this had felt like an unusually frustrating afternoon for Chelsea, with West Brom's well-drilled defence equal to everything thrown at them.

Arsenal won 13 straight games during the 2001-02 season, when they won the title.

Who would now bet against Chelsea doing the same? (© Independent News Service)

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