As we made our way up to Liverpool yesterday, I tried to put our record against Everton out of my mind. I’d feared the trip to Goodison for some time and the first half did little to reassure me. As they came out for the second half, a voice behind me roared — “can we pretend we’re in a fight for the title?” He had a point!
Conte had obviously said something similar at half-time because we saw a far more determined Chelsea take to the field. We started slowly but resolutely gained the upper-hand and piled on the pressure.
The Everton team and fans seemed to waiver and that’s when Pedro struck. Immediately, the team relaxed — it was as if they suddenly remembered how good they could be. The passing improved, the crosses improved, we saw the intelligent link-up play that had deserted us in the first half and the team all started putting in a proper shift.
There was only going to be one winner after that.
What is invaluable at this stage is having some wise old heads in the team — experienced players like Pedro and Fabregas who have won it all. They know how to win — they know it’s about concentration, hard work, and every player working for the team. Their input in invaluable. I honestly do not think we’d be top without them. With the hundreds of games under their belts, they can cope better with pressure and emotion.
Pedro, especially, has weighed in with more than his fair share of goals which has been hugely important in this campaign — especially the second half of the season, where Costa’s contribution has been sporadic.
In the past we had Frank Lampard acting as a safety net for any misfiring strikers and most clubs that win the Premier League usually boast a team where the goals come from a myriad of players. Hazard obviously and Willian have scored stunning and important goals but I think we still need to bring in players that can score or create more.
So Spurs are still hot on our heels. I didn’t expect Arsenal to do us any favours; they lack bottle and so it proved.
I don’t believe the talk that we have the title in the bag but we do seem to be getting back into our groove. I have to convince myself Palace was just one of those abominations and United too served a purpose —indeed they could have been a timely kick up the arse which ensured we didn’t go into the final half a dozen games with a complacent team.
In a way that 10-point gap allowed us to subconsciously accept too many slip-ups — with Spurs breathing down our necks we know what we need from every game to guarantee that title.
Conte knows this and is rightly being cautious — all that said, the win at Goodison was huge given their home form this season and our record up there. I imagine it was also where Tottenham expected that we’d slip up. It truly is squeaky bum time.