Before you read this, remember, Chelsea still has a four-point lead atop the Premier League and they play Tottenham Hotspur in an FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium this Saturday.
[ MORE: Mourinho’s master plan ]
Remember that when reading Antonio Conte‘s damning verdict of his team following their 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on Sunday which breathed new life into the PL title race after two defeats in four PL games for Chelsea.
“It won’t be easy because I think Tottenham are now the best team. They are in good form and they have a lot of enthusiasm. They are feeling the possibility to write history and it is important for us to know this,” Conte said.
“We lost two games but those games were totally different. Against Crystal Palace, we didn’t deserve to lose. Today we deserved to lose the game. We didn’t play a good game and United deserved to win. We have to think there are six finals from now until the end of the season. The league is open and we have a 50% [opportunity] to win the league. It will be good to finish on top of the table and, if so, it means we deserve this. Otherwise we must clap another team.”
Is it just me, or did that statement from Conte seem a little extreme in the aftermath of a potentially damaging defeat at Old Trafford?
[ MORE: 3 things we learned | Player ratings ]
As soon as he uttered the words “Tottenham are now the best team” in the press conference room at Old Trafford you could hear journalists pounding away at their keyboards as eyes widened and others muttered ‘what the heck is he saying’ following Conte’s comments.
It wasn’t so much a concession that his Chelsea’s team are on the ropes for the final weeks of the season, but it was a warning sign of where this team is at.
Conte was right about Chelsea’s defeat at United. They didn’t deserve to win, or draw, and Jose Mourinho won the tactical battle fair and square as Ander Herrra has probably just allowed Eden Hazard to hop out of his back pocket and Chelsea’s makeshift defense couldn’t handle the pacy duo of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard up front together.
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It wasn’t rocket science from Mourinho, but it was brave and bold and was something a little different than most teams have done against Chelsea this season. Conte and his players will now have to prepare for teams playing two up front against them in their pivotal final six games of the season with their three center backs suddenly under more pressure than they have been since the switch to a 3-4-3 back in September.
Amid reports of a virus sweeping through Chelsea’s dressing room late last week, plus goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois getting injured in an NBA promo video (yes, you read that correctly) the Blues are having some adversity thrown at them. Add in club captain John Terry announcing he will leave Chelsea at the end of this season at the age of 36 to continue playing elsewhere, and a lot is happening right now at Stamford Bridge. Terry’s leadership and experience will no doubt be needed in the final weeks of the season to nudge Chelsea over the line.
[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]
The mentality of this team is strong, as they’ve shown for most of the season and the vast majority of this squad showed that in the 2014-15 title-winning campaign too. Yet given the epic collapse most of these players were part of and the 10th place finish last season, there’s a lingering sense that Chelsea could crumble.
There’s no doubting Tottenham have the tougher schedule remaining but with Spurs winning seven games on the spin, unbeaten at home in the PL and going into an FA Cup semi against Chelsea brimming with confidence, the warning bells are starting to ring for Conte and Chelsea.
It’s time they woke up from this little slump and finish the job. If they don’t, Tottenham will nip in and take it all.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
This weekend was so much fun. On location at White Hart Lane, Old Trafford and the Riverside Stadium was the entire NBC Sports Soccer crew as the broadcast team from the USA flew across the pond to link up with everyone.
A great time was had by all, with plenty of laughs mixed in with long travel days, countless pitch-side interviews with some of the biggest names in the PL, plus behind-the-scenes Facebook lives with the gang and much, much more.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
With a studio, pitch-side desk and gantry at each stadium for Tottenham vs. Bournemouth, Man United vs. Chelsea and Middlesbrough vs. Arsenal, the annual trip to the UK delivered big time when it came to drama on the pitch and excitement off it.
Click play on the video at the top of this section to get a glimpse of what to expect in the “I Was There” PL Download special coming up on Wednesday, April 26th at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
You won’t want to miss it.
TOP FOUR BATTLE IS ON
Wins for Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton mean the top four battle is well and truly on.
Things are getting tense and tight.
[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]
Liverpool and Man United took care of business after watching Man City blow past Southampton 3-0 on Saturday as Vincent Kompany‘s return to full-fitness was a joy to watch. Suddenly Pep Guardiola‘s City look much more solid in defense and they remain just as lethal in attack.
We’ve spoken about Man United’s tactical beating of Chelsea and Mourinho will feel like his team now have a real chance of making the top four as they sit four points behind Man City and have a game in hand. Add in that the two Manchester clubs face each other next Thursday in the PL and the top four battle is set to intensify further.
Watching on nervously all weekend were Arsenal who beat a stubborn Middlesrbrough side 2-1 after switching to a 3-4-3 formation for the first time in 20 years under Wenger. Along with Everton’s fine form and Romelu Lukaku banging in the goals, there are five teams in the hunt for third and fourth place, even if the Toffees have played more games than anyone else and seem likely to finish seventh given their tough run-in.
[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]
With Arsenal still to play Man United and Tottenham, plus Man City still to play Man United and United still to face Tottenham, things seem pretty set for Liverpool to finish in the top four a Jurgen Klopp‘s men have a kind run-in.
Yet, strange things happen at this time of the season and the top four race will no doubt go down to the wire.
END OF AN ERA AS JT CALLS TIME
As mentioned above, at the age of 36 Terry has decided to end his time at Chelsea after 19 seasons at the club. After coming through the youth ranks the captain of Chelsea will leave a huge void after 22 years in west London.
[ MORE: What now for Terry? ]
Even though he’s missed most of this season through a combination of injury and not being able to usurp Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta from a solid back three, Terry’s impact in the dressing room will still be key, especially in the run-in.
After all, he’s won 14 major honors at Chelsea, lifting 13 of them as captain.
Where does he go next? Reports suggest Major League Soccer, China or other options in the PL are emerging but for now let’s let the words of those who know him best honor a true Chelsea hero.
He will go down as one of the greatest center backs in world history, plus the greatest player in Chelsea’s history and one of England’s finest defenders.
As the banner simply says at Stamford Bridge: “JT. Captain. Leader. Legend.”
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The last man standing of an incredible era for @chelseafc. What a pleasure to play with the greatest defender in the @premierleague history. In fact, I'd put him up with any defender in world football of any era. He led the club both on and off the pitch from the moment he made his debut. He set standards for everyone, whether it was demanding excellence in training, fighting for every win or respecting how fortunate we were to play for such a great club. He was, and is, a legend, not just for his talent but just as much for his desire to get the best out of himself and others around him. That's what made him the most successful captain in the club's history. Off the pitch a great friend to not just me but so many at the club and outside of it. The countless things I've seen JT do to help people outside of the game, things that not many see, are what defines him as a man. @johnterry.26 you deserve every accolade you get over the next weeks and beyond and I hope you get what you deserve and lift two massive trophies at the end of the season(just to add to the tally 😂). Whatever you do next I know everyone will respect your decision and I know that the Chels will always be your club. Absolute respect 💙💙👊👊#jt #captain #leader #legend
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From day one you've been a true Leader, when I first met you and didn't know who you were 🙈 ☺️ but said to me "welcome to chelsea" Thought you were a young player from the academy going on pre season tour 😂😂😂 Then I realized who you were from your first speech right before our first friendly game vs @celticfc . You've been carrying this team, this club for 22 years with the same passion, the same desire to win for @chelseafc and our fans. Proud to have been lead by the all time best defender of @premierleague and one of the very best in the world!!!! Thanks for the memories CAPTAIN LEGEND TERRY @johnterry.26 and all the very best for your next challenge. #leaderonandoffthepitch #legend #Goat #chelseafc #johnterry #blues #endofanera #whataneraitwas #winniiiiiiiiiing🏅🏆🏅🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏅🏆🏅🏆🏆🏆🏅🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.