Chelsea manager Antonio Conte declared that something “fantastic” might lie ahead for his side after they emphatically won at Everton, in the last of their fixtures against top six sides, to maintain their first grip on the title.
“We must feel this season could go from good to fantastic,” said Conte, who celebrated in front of Chelsea’s fans at the end and admitted that he had hugged his players in the dressing room after they had displayed patience against a side who kept Chelsea out for an hour.
Asked how close he thought Chelsea now stand to a title, with only Middlesbrough, Watford, West Brom and Sunderland to play, Conte said: “I don’t know. It is a great win. If we don’t win against Middlesbrough you lose this great win. When you play away against a strong team like Everton you must be pleased to win the game and also to keep the clean sheet.”
Despite a quiet afternoon for Hazard and frustration for Diego Costa, Chelsea were able to call on the Spaniard Pedro, who had not scored in eight games but unleashed a superb left foot effort from 20 yards to break the deadlock.
“Pedro is showing to be a great player but don’t forget Pedro played with Barcelona and he won a lot with this club,” Conte said. “He must continue this way and to finish this season and to win. Also for him it is a good season but not a fantastic season.”
Everton manager Ronald Koeman, whose side had not lost at home since the Merseyside derby on December 19 and had won eight on the trot here admitted that Chelsea have a clinical quality which was hard to repel, while also defending well.
“One of the most difficult things is to create chances,” he said. “It is a difficult system to play against. They wait and they are really clinical. Maybe they missed two good chances in the first half but it is a team without playing on a high football level they will win the game because they have that quality.”
Conte seemed unhappy to see David Luiz wanting to leave the field injured after 82 minutes but said it was not a serious injury and that he expected the Brazilian to be available for the next game at home to Middlesbrough. “Also now in this part of the season it is important sometimes to try to play if you are not 100%,” he said. Koeman said that Morgan Schneiderlin’s thigh injury did not render his season over.
Of the victory, Conte said: “It wasn’t easy to play against a really strong team and a really good manager that prepared the game really well with a good tactical organisation. My players showed me great patience to wait for the right moment to hit. For us it was very important to keep the clean sheet after 13 games and this is very important for our confidence for the final part of the season. For sure a great win away against Everton and we know Everton won eight games in a row at Goodison Park”
Koeman said of Chelsea: “[They are] confident in having a good defence defending the 1-0 and 2-0 up and waiting for space and chances. The difference is they are more experienced than we are. We have some young players. We don’t’ have five or six players [like theirs] and also missed Schneiderlin today and then it is too much.”