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.
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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.