Chelsea’s Premier League rivals hoping for news of a meltdown and those in need of some title excitement will be disappointed to find out there was little evidence of either brewing following the shock defeat to 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 on Saturday night.
Head coach Conte, who has ranted and raved his way through countless victories this season, remained “cool” in the dressing room 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 reiterated the fact he is happy where he is.
And Diego Costa, a man who could start an argument in an empty room, hung around in the tunnel to give a young supporter, who was there with Chelsea’s matchday wishes programme for ill children, his shirt and a warm hug.
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 give any of their rivals banking on an implosion any encouragement.
“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.
But 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 is 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 this year. I still have a contract until 2020. So I'm fine here.”
Manchester City are the visitors to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, 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,” said Conte. “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 allegations from England manager Gareth Southgate regarding his decision to play for the Ivory Coast, the forward underlined why he could prove to be a huge miss for the Football Association.
Sam Allardyce did not select Zaha in his one and only England squad, but the Crystal Palace manager suggested he would not have allowed the 24-year-old to slip through the international net.
“Was he on my to-do list? I’ve got to say yes to that, haven’t I! I brought Michail Antonio in on the basis of how well he was performing for West Ham at the time and I think for me you always look across the board at who’s in great form at that particular time,” said Allardyce.
“As far as I know, and I’m not apportioning blame to anybody, but it wasn’t done when it could have been done, and Wilf made a decision to play for the country he was born in. So it’s happened and certainly at the moment he is playing outstanding football.”
Zaha’s Stamford Bridge performance will only heighten interest in him from Tottenham Hotspur and elsewhere, but Allardyce is not worried by his list of suitors.
“Well that’s a nice thing to think about, not a difficult thing,” said Allardyce. “I think in today’s world, a player of Wilfried’s capabilities, if you see them grow and become quality players for your team and continue to help you win football matches, it’s bound to attract interest from other football clubs across the world.
“So I think when that day comes, we can’t moan about it because we’ll have done all we can for Wilf and Wilf will have done all he can for Crystal Palace. But Wilf is on a long contract Steve Parish tells me, so there is not that danger at the moment of losing him. I think he is starting to enjoy his football by his performances, I think you’ve seen that.”