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.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

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.

Forster stars as 10-man Celtic beat Rangers, claim 10th-straight trophy

Photo by Jeff Holmes/PA Images via Getty Images
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At some point, Rangers supporters will be forgiven for thinking Celtic doesn’t have all the luck in Scotland.

The Bhoys, second best for most of the day, scored a 60th minute goal and then overcame a red card three minutes later to claim their 10th successive piece of Scottish silverware with a 1-0 win the Scottish League Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Celtic’s Chris Jullien prodded home a free kick before 18-year-old Jeremie Frimpong was sent off, and Rangers had already controlled the proceedings before seeing a 16-5 edge in shot attempts at the final whistle.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, the former Saints and Newcastle man, was outstanding in the win, even stopping an Alfredo Morelos penalty as the Rangers star failed to deliver.

From the BBC:

“It was just one of them days, it went my way today. I’m buzzing. There’s been days when it’s not gone my way, today it has. I can’t say how much it means to me. I didn’t really think about the penalty to be honest. I picked the way it went. I’ll take it.

“That’s why I came back; to play in games like this, to win silverware, to play European football.”

Rodgers: “Historic day” as Leicester City extends win streak

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Of course it’s early, but it looks like Leicester City is the Premier League’s lone bright hope of challenging Liverpool for the title.

And yeah, that’s a big deal, even after the Foxes claimed the most inexplicable title in top flight history just four seasons ago.

[ RECAP: Villa 1-4 Leicester City ]

But the Foxes remain leery about embracing their title credentials, even after setting a club record by winning their eight-straight via a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday.

“I thought they were amazing,” said Brendan Rodgers. “It is a historical day for the club and the performance warranted that. It really does mean something special, it puts the team in the history books of Leicester City.”

Okay, but… just a little bit about the title fight, Brendan? No?

Perhaps goal scoring defender Jonny Evans would take the bait.

“We are up there and it shows we are playing well. Our performance was good, against one of the best Villa teams I faced in years. It shows we are capable of coming away and getting results. It is nice people are talking about us, we’re enjoying it and there’s great spirit in the club.”

Leicester is eight points back of first, the only team within 10 points of Liverpool. Man City is 14 back and Chelsea 17.

The Foxes host Norwich City before its next stretch of proving ground arrives via a League Cup quarterfinal at Everton prefaces league matches versus Man City and Liverpool.

Scrappy Sheffield United comes back to win again

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George Baldock had a goal and an assist as Sheffield United came back to beat poor Norwich City at Carrow Road on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Enda Stevens also scored for the Blades, who got back in the win column after a loss to Newcastle at midweek. United is eighth, the top of three teams on 22 points.

Alex Tettey scored Norwich’s lone goal, the Canaries locked in 19th and four points back of safety.


Three things we learned

1. Baldock’s banner day: The Blades dangerous right back loves to whip in a cross, and it’s no surprise he got his assist that way. He’s been quite lively around the box this year, and his turn and fire to make it 2-1 was a fitting finish given the 26-year-old’s day.

2. Basham gets VAR reprieve: Sometimes it’s not black and white, and you go to VAR, and VAR decides the shades of gray. Chris Basham was sent off for a vicious tackle on Kenny McLean, but the Sheffield United man saw VAR decide it wasn’t quite so dastardly and Blades continued with 10 men. A tough one if you’re a Norwich supporter.

3. Buendia stays bright: Norwich playmaker Emiliano Buendia is keeping the Canaries in games, the proverbial don’t write it, don’t write it, don’t write it canary in a coal mine. Five more key passes for Buendia to accompany more fine dribbling and a surprisingly good battle for a player as skillful as the 22-year-old Argentine.

Man of the Match: Baldock.


The Canaries went in front through Tettey inside a half-hour of kickoff, a corner dealt with poorly from the Blades that the Norwegian struck well for 1-0.

Norwich was good money for its halftime lead, with an 8-4 edge in shots, 53 percent of the ball, and six corners to the Blades’ zero.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Blades leveled things through Stevens, who headed in a Baldock cross before the assister became the scorer. The goal was no small ask, Baldock navigating the 18 to get off his shot.

Vardy, Iheanacho power 4-star Foxes past Villa

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Kelechi Iheanacho again collected a goal and an assist and Jamie Vardy scored twice as Leicester City punished Aston Villa in an entertaining 4-1 at Villa Park on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jonny Evans also scored for the Foxes, who maintain their place eight points behind leaders Liverpool.

Jack Grealish scored for Aston Villa, which stays ahead of 18th place on Southampton on goal differential.

Leicester City hosts Liverpool on Boxing Day, a date to circle on the calendar.


Three things we learned

1. Iheanacho emergence a new wrinkle: Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho was always lurking as a possible star during his time at Man City, but couldn’t break through and transferred to the King Power Stadium. Life hadn’t been easy at his new home, but a goal and an assist in consecutive Premier League fixtures can make a difference as Leicester hopes to challenge Liverpool. Resting Jamie Vardy on occasion without a big drop-off would be a potentially monumental development.

2. Vardy’s party a record bash: The 15th and 16th goals of Vardy’s PL run put him on pace for 38. That would be six better than Mohamed Salah‘s 38-game record and four better than the 42-game mark shared by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole. Even when he makes mistakes, he finishes.

3. Hobbled Mings a big worry: Villa star center back Tyrone Mings pulled up with an injury but attempted to fight through it. Full credit to him, as he’s been the easy star of the newly-promoted side’s start to life in the Premier League, but an absence or step back from the block and clearance machine will be a major blow to Dean Smith‘s side.

Man of the Match: It’s between Vardy and Iheanacho — James Maddison was also good — and we’ll choose Vardy because we gave it to Iheanacho at midweek.


Kelechi Iheanacho slipped Vardy through on goal, and the Foxes striker nearly blew his chance despite dribbling the keeper.

Ezri Konsa would’ve liked to challenge Vardy following the unusual mis-touch, but the defender was felled by his own sliding keeper.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

After Anwar El Ghazi just missed a promising bid to equalize, Villa’s Bjorn Engels slid to break up a Vardy pass to a wide open Iheanacho.

The Nigerian got his goal in the 41st, a James Maddison cross deflected goal ward and off his leg for 2-0.

Grealish bounced a shot through traffic and inside the far post after Vardy couldn’t clear a corner kick.

Leicester needed less than four second half minutes to restore its two-goal advantage, the unmarked Evans perfectly placing a back post header across goal off a corner kick.