There were a number of reasons for Antonio Conte to feel optimistic after the Italian watched his side move seven points clear at the top of the table courtesy of a 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge.
As well as our positive response to being pegged back midway through the first half when Oriol Romeu cancelled out Eden Hazard’s early opener, Conte will have been pleased to see Diego Costa return to scoring form, the striker netting twice in the second half – his 50th and 51st Premier League goals – to take the game away from the visitors.
The returning Gary Cahill was also on target, brilliantly heading home on the stroke of half-time to restore our lead.
Conte was delighted with the victory, particularly given the fact we were back in action so quickly after Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham.
‘The most important thing is to look at ourselves, tonight was a big win for us,’ said Conte. ‘Above all, when you have to play two-and-a-half days after a really strong game when we reached the final of the FA Cup. Now for us it’s very important to try to fight and try to win the title.
‘It wasn’t easy, we faced a very strong team who were rested for 10 days. They had no pressure so you can enjoy these type of games when you face the team who are top of the league.
‘My players showed me a great will and desire to win the game. It’s important to rest tomorrow and prepare for another tough game at Everton.
‘We passed a big psychological step after the defeat to United because we lost three points and then we had to prepare for a semi-final against Tottenham and another tough game in the league. I think we have had a really important test and our answer was very good so for this reason I must be pleased.
‘We must think the race is open. We reached the final of the FA Cup but the league is totally open. We are ready to fight until the end and we must be proud of what we are doing this season. It’s normal we have to push to try to keep this position until the end.’
Conte felt Cahill’s goal just before the break was a crucial moment
‘It was very important otherwise we would have gone into the changing room at 1-1, it’s not the same and my speech wouldn’t have been the same. I’m pleased for Gary, he scored a really important goal for us and maybe it gave us more confidence for the second half.’
Conte said Diego Costa’s brace will help him for the rest of the season
‘For strikers it’s very important to score because the goal is your life. I always said I was very pleased with his commitment and work for the team. Sometimes he was lacking in different circumstances but I was always confident about him. If you remember, in the Tottenham press conference I said he was saving his goals for the final part of the season. It’s important for his confidence and for us. He scored two beautiful goals where he showed good quality and good combinations between him and his team-mates.
‘The crowd were great with Diego and all my players. In this part of the season everyone must understand the real importance to reach our targets. Everyone feels a bit of pressure, the players, the club and the fans who want to win after this incredible season.
‘It’s important to stay together and understand this moment, to be ready to push our team in the right way. For this reason I want to say thanks to our fans because they showed great passion.’
John Terry was introduced for the closing stages of the game, and Conte was full of praise for the defender
‘John is a really important player for us and he’s doing a great job this season. For sure it’s not easy for him because he’s not playing a lot. I want to say thanks to John but he knows my admiration for him. He’s helping me and the team, every single player. Hs always available to accept every one of my decisions. When you have this type of player you must be pleased. It will be a great loss next season to lose a player like him.’
Conte was asked about a moment in the game when he kicked a medical bag on the touchline
‘In that moment I wanted to kick the ball and I took the bag for a ball, sometimes I want to play but I know if I kick the ball the referee will probably send me off. We are totally involved in the game and it’s the right way, for me and the players to always be together in positive and negative moments. We have to always give the right message.’