Antonio Conte warns Chelsea it will still be tough to win the title

Dominic Fifield at Stamford Bridge
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Antonio Conte shows his frustration as Chelsea let their early lead slip to lose at home for the first time since September.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Antonio Conte shows his frustration as Chelsea let their early lead slip to lose at home for the first time since September. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

Antonio Conte has pointed to Chelsea’s surprise home defeat to Crystal Palace as evidence that the title race is far from over and warned his players that their run-in will be tough.

The leaders’ club-record 13-match winning streak at home came to a juddering halt at the hands of a side who have been embroiled in a battle against relegation for months, with Tottenham Hotspur’s victory at Burnley trimming Chelsea’s advantage at the top to seven points.

While that remains an imposing lead, Manchester City visit on Wednesday with Conte now intent upon his coaxing an immediate response from his players.

“For sure, for people watching this league, it’s a good result,” said the Chelsea manager. “It makes it more interesting. But I always said that the league only finishes when it is mathematically sure you have won. Otherwise you must play every game to try to win because, I repeat, in England easy games do not exist. In every game here, anything can happen because the league is so strong.

“We faced a team with strong players, very good players, and they showed they are a good team.

“But we have to think about the next game. If we had won we would have been happy, but now we must focus on Manchester City. We all know the strength of their team. So we must recover and rest, and remember that in England there are no easy games. You could see that today against Crystal Palace. Every game will be very tough from now until the end. Also, if the team is Manchester City or a side fighting in the relegation zone.”

Conte could point to the non-award of a penalty after Andros Townsend blocked Pedro’s shot with his arm or the brilliance of Mamadou Sakho and Wayne Hennessey in the visitors’ rearguard. But Palace had posed a constant threat on the counterattack with Wilfried Zaha maintaining his excellent recent form.

“It’s an absolutely outstanding victory for us, particularly in the position we’re in,” said Sam Allardyce. “Nobody expected it.”

Palace lost Scott Dann to a potentially serious knee injury and James Tomkins to a calf complaint. Asked if there is any chance Palace could secure Sakho on a permanent basis at the end of the season from Liverpool, Allardyce said: “Staying in the Premier League is our priority, and then we’ll see what Mamadou’s aspirations are, to be with us or anywhere else. His future doesn’t look as if it is at Liverpool, that’s for sure.

“But he’s enjoying his football and his life here at the moment. He’s brought that resilience to the team by leading by example. He’s taking a commanding role in his performance and the information he’s giving out on the field. That has helped with our defensive resilience: one goal conceded in four games, and we’ve won all four with him in the side.”

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