Antonio Conte admits retaining the Premier League title may be out of Chelsea’s reach despite an impressive recent run of results ahead of their midweek Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid.
The Blues fought back from a goal down on Saturday to beat Newcastle 3-1 courtesy of two goals from the impressive Eden Hazard either side of a headed effort from Alvaro Morata.
The win leaves defending champions Chelsea third on 32 points, eight behind pacesetters Manchester City, after six wins in their past seven Premier League matches.
“I am happy, but you know very well that there is a team in this league that is doing extraordinary things and it’s Manchester City,” said Conte. “Otherwise, I think we are staying up there with the other teams.”
Chelsea host Atletico on Tuesday in their last Champions League group match knowing that a win will guarantee them top spot in Group C ahead of Serie A side Roma, and a Hazard display against the Spaniards similar to Saturday’s would go a long way to securing Chelsea first place.
“Eden enjoys playing our type of football,” said Conte.
“He is an important player for us. We can change our system around him. He can play as a second striker or he can play as a number 10 when we play 3-4-3.”
Conte said it would be special to see Hazard in action for Belgium against England at the World Cup next year, joking that he would have to ask his Chelsea team-mates Gary Cahill and Danny Drinkwater to treat him gently.
“Gary knows very well Eden’s skill and for this reason, he must pay great attention. Every day to have a training session with this type of player and this skill makes you stronger.”
Despite a bright start for Newcastle, Rafa Benitez’s side slumped to their fifth defeat in six league games, a run that has seen them drop into the bottom half of the table.
Benitez, who won the Europa League with Chelsea is his spell as interim manager at Stamford Bridge four years ago, was in combative mood afterwards.
He insisted his side had come up against a team that will finish in the top three this season.
“Chelsea have a lot of good things,” he said. “They have to compete for the title. It is obvious that they are one of the teams that will be there in the top three, but we began well and it was a pity that we couldn’t keep the lead for a while.
“It’s not a problem of confidence with my team, it’s a problem of the level of the Premier League. You could see the team working really hard even at the end. We finished with two corners and we were still trying.”
London, United Kingdom | AFP