LONDON (Reuters) - As a manager brought up on steely Italian defensive discipline, Antonio Conte must have had some sleepless nights in the past week worrying about Chelsea’s creaky rearguard.
Seven goals conceded in their last three games, including three before halftime at Arsenal last week, had undermined a previously encouraging start to the season for Chelsea.
The mistakes were eradicated on Saturday though as Chelsea, employing a new defensive formation, returned to form with a 2-0 Premier League victory at Hull City, courtesy of well-taken second-half goals from Willian and Diego Costa.
It was a victory built on solid foundations rather than scintillating play but it left former Italy coach Conte, a defensive midfielder par excellence in his playing days, a much happier man after his decision to start with three centre backs in Davis Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill.
“More than the system, what’s important is the principles, then you can change,” Conte said of the new ploy.
“This week we’ve worked a lot, we must find the right way to be more compact. A clean sheet is important for the confidence. We are working very hard and we must continue in this way.”
While the defensive errors that have plagued Chelsea in recent weeks were absent, their attacking play also benefited with wing backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso providing pace and width. Cesc Fabregas was left out.
”I‘m pleased with the whole game because in England no game is easy,“ said Conte. ”Today I knew it would be very tough because we faced a team with a great spirit.
“But we played with the right intensity and with good pressure.”
Chelsea did not offer much of a threat in the first half, but were sharper after the break and took the lead when Willian curled an unstoppable shot past Hull keeper David Marshall.
Costa, looking back to his best after last season’s dip, found the top corner shortly afterwards to wrap up the points and move top of the Premier League scoring chart with six goals.
“It’s fantastic for him and for us that he’s scored six goals. Diego has the opportunities in every game but what’s important is the work he does for the team,” Conte said.
“When you work hard you usually get opportunities. I‘m pleased for him, Willian and (Eden) Hazard. Hazard played well, with the right intensity and tried to do what I wanted.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Clare Fallon