Conte on Chelsea’s title run-in: “I like the pressure”

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BOURNEMOUTH — The pressure isn’t getting to Chelsea or Antonio Conte. At all.

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On Saturday the Blues strode into the Vitality Stadium and beat Bournemouth 3-1 with minimum fuss, regaining their seven point lead atop the Premier League after Tottenham had momentarily cut it down to four points.

Throughout the game Chelsea’s fans sang “Tottenham Hotspur, we’re waiting for you!” with a smugness which suggests they know the deal has almost been sealed.

Playing after Tottenham in two of their next four games, Chelsea will have to handle seeing their lead diminish for a time before they get the chance to move clear again.

Speaking in his press conference after the game, Conte revealed he thrives on pressure.

“I like the pressure. I live with pressure. If I don’t see pressure, I put pressure,” Conte said. “Because I think that the pressure gives you the best of yourself.”

Conte chuckled after that last statement, smiling as he raised his eyebrows. It is clear the pressure isn’t getting to Chelsea.

Even though they survived an early scare when David Luiz almost scored a spectacular own goal, plus when Benik Afobe‘s shot hit the inside of the post and Bournemouth rallied after making it 2-1, Chelsea carved their opponents open time and time again and had a determination to defend.

They haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last nine PL games, a run stretching back to January, and those defensive mistakes may be the only way back in for their title rivals.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

With the west London club seven points clear with seven games to go, they are running out of time to slip up and let Spurs in. Tottenham have won six straight games in the Premier League as they battered Watford 4-0 in the early game on Saturday.

Even though Spurs are doing everything they can to hunt Chelsea down, the Blues are edging closer to the title in Conte’s first season in charge. It’s so close they can almost taste it.

“I don’t smell the victory because there are seven games to go. We have a schedule that is not easy. We know this. It is important to go game by game,” Conte said. “In this case after the defeat against Crystal Palace, which we didn’t deserved, we played Man City, we can drop points and today against Bournemouth we could drop points. Instead we won both games. We have to continue this way, to play game by game, be focused and concentrate because, for sure, Tottenham has a great desire to win the title. We must have the same desire.”

A trip to Manchester United next weekend could be Chelsea’s biggest challenge yet in the run-in. If Tottenham win and Chelsea lose at Old Trafford, the gap could be down to four points.

Then, if Chelsea slip up at home to in-form Southampton the Tuesday after and Tottenham beat Crystal Palace the following day their lead will be down to one point with four games to go. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ there but Conte and his teams are failing to get ahead of themselves.

While lesser men have crumbled in these type of pressure situations in the past, Conte is feeding from it. So are his players.

That’s why Chelsea are the champions elect.

Pochettino: “Challenge is to keep going” ahead of North London Derby

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Mauricio Pochettino was thrilled to see Tottenham Hotspur’s title push continue with a win over in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

Spurs won 1-0 on a beautiful Christian Eriksen goal from distance, moving back to within four points of Premier League leading Chelsea.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-1 Spurs ]

Pochettino’s men didn’t stop fighting for the winner despite relentless fight from the home side, with improving mettle on display this season.

“Unbelievable. Very good performance. I think second half we played much better than in the first half. It was difficult in the first half for us to move the ball and find the space but we changed the shape at half time and it was more fluid, we started to find the space and started to push Palace deeper and deeper.”

After two tough London Derbies — Spurs fell 4-2 to Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal — Tottenham now has the big one: a visit from Arsenal in the North London Derby.

“It was good to get the three points and be alive in the race for the title. The challenge is to keep going. It is always better to win but it is true [the Arsenal game] is a big derby, perhaps the last at White Hart Lane and I think it will be an exciting game.”

We’re ready for it. Spurs will be favored to pick up all three points, but all bets are off when it comes to the NLD. That’s especially true considering the ticking Top Four clock for Arsenal and the title fight for Spurs.

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Eriksen saves the day

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  • Sakho stretchered off
  • Eriksen rescues title hope
  • Spurs four back of Chelsea

Palace made them work for it.

Tottenham Hotspur didn’t exactly sends chills down the spine of Chelsea with its performance, but Spurs found a way past tricky and in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday at Selhurst Park.

Christian Eriksen‘s pretty goal sealed the three points for Spurs, who have five matches to chase down four points from the Blues.

Palace sits 12th, seven points clear of 18th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Two in-forms started with confidence, Harry Kane lashing wide of the frame for Spurs and Wilfried Zaha driving Palace on the right wing.

Another in-form Eagles attacker, Christian Benteke, did well to create space and hit a low shot that forced Hugo Lloris to ground.

Victor Wanyama was on yellow when he slid to intercept Andros Townsend, taking the Englishman to the turf. Jon Moss gave Wanyama a harsh warning, but did not produce the red card.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

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Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-min were called upon soon after the break to liven up Spurs attack.

The substitution that stood to shake up the match was Palace center back Mamadou Sakho, who was hurt with about 40 minutes to play.

Eriksen stung a shot across goal for the eventual winner, a rare moment of class from a three-match day that didn’t quite fit the standard of the Premier League.

Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City: Only an own goal

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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  • Chances at a premium
  • Monreal forces Huth own goal
  • Arsenal moves sixth
  • Foxes six clear of drop

Nacho Monreal‘s desperate shot ricocheted off Robert Huth‘s chest and gave Arsenal a 1-0 win over Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Entertainment value wasn’t high over the course of the match, as Arsenal had trouble piercing Leicester’s congested back four.

Arsenal is now three points back of Manchester United and four behind Man City before Thursday’s Manchester Derby.

Leicester is six points clear of 18th and has played one less game than most of the teams chasing them.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal had most of the ball to start the match, but needed to make the first big stop. Petr Cech kept the match goalless when he flew to stop a left-footed whip from Riyad Mahrez.

At the other end, Mesut Ozil set up Theo Walcott for a chance that prodded a solid save from Kasper Schmeichel.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Wilfried Ndidi was again a monster in the middle third for Leicester, arguably the main reason the Foxes have rebounded from their relegation plight.

Arsenal had a chance pushed away from danger by Robert Huth after Alexis Sanchez misjudged his time on the ball in front of goal in the 56th minute.

Schmeichel then dove to slap away a deflected Francis Coquelin shot.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Laurent Koscielny went down in pain after landing awkwardly in the 79th minute, leaving a gap in space that Shinji Okazaki would’ve exploited were it not for a block from Gabriel Paulista.

Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane should’ve seen red with 10 minutes to play following a leaping boot to the back of Olivier Giroud, but only a foul was given.

Ndidi made a sliding intervention on Mesut Ozil in the 85th minute, another terrific bit of work from the Nigerian.

That’s when Huth’s unlucky moment lifted Arsenal to the lead.

Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland: Derby honors and a bit of life

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  • Boro’s first PL win since Dec. 17
  • Smoggies move within six of 17th
  • Sunderland on verge of relegation

Marten De Roon snared Middlesbrough new hope at safety and a derby win as Boro scored early to complete a season sweep of Tees-Wear Derby rivals Sunderland on Wednesday.

The 1-0 win means Sunderland is 12 points back of 17th place Hull City with five matches to play. Hull has four matches left.

For Boro, it’s six points back of Hull but a devastating run-in that includes Man City, Chelsea, Southampton, and Liverpool.

The win was USMNT backstop Brad Guzan‘s second of the Premier League season, the first coming in the reverse fixture.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

De Roon tilted the Tees-Wear Derby to Boro’s side with an opening goal that could signal the end of Sunderland’s slim safety hopes.

Stewart Downing tempted 2-0 with a hard low shot that Jordan Pickford did very well to save with a leg.

Sunderland did find a bit of danger when Didier N’Dong forced Brad Guzan into a save, but Billy Jones nodded over the frame.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]