LONDON (Reuters) - A moment of brilliance from Eden Hazard sent his manager Antonio Conte into paroxysms of delight during the 3-1 over Arsenal on Saturday when the Italian flung himself into the crowd to celebrate the Belgian’s goal.
But for all Hazard’s dribbling menace and sparkling finish, Conte knows that his Chelsea side’s 12-point lead in the Premier League owes as much to the hard graft, team ethic, togetherness and consistency of the squad’s lesser lights.
Players such as wing backs Marcos Alonso, who scored Chelsea’s opener, and Victor Moses, rejuvenated under Conte, harry and harass their opposition, allowing the creatives space to excel.
And in the centre of the defensive midfield the solid figure of N‘Golo Kante runs tirelessly, soaks up pressure and sprays passes upfield with the sort of measured calm that Conte struggles to show on the touchline.
Even after the thumping defeat of one of their closest rivals on Saturday, Kante, who arrived from champions Leicester City at the start of the season, did not get excited.
“It wasn’t the best we have played but it was important for us,” the Frenchman said. “The title is not finished, a lot of things could happen.”
After the game that also included an audacious lobbed goal from former Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas, Conte said his side’s transformation from a team in the post-Mourinho doldrums who lost 3-0 to Arsenal in September was built on more than shining cameos.
“Hazard shows always quality. I am pleased for him. Today his performance was very good with the ball. But I want to underline without the ball because he worked a lot for the team. When he plays this way he is a complete player,” Conte said.
“Only through work and great ability of the players can you change a situation.”
Conte said he was delighted by the concentration and attention his players displayed, ”with a good will to fight with a good will to work together...they showed me their commitment their fight, their determination to win this game.
Conte doubled his players’ training time at the start of the season and built spirit gradually, organising days out and meals together.
Moses said the result was a family atmosphere.
“Players and management have been out for dinner as a big group on a few occasions, most recently just a few weeks ago,” Moses told the Chelsea website (Chelseafc.com) this week.
“We’re like a family here. We all talk to each other a lot and there’s always a good atmosphere around the training ground...We’ve been out for dinner a few times already this season and it’s great for team bonding.”
“It’s always enjoyable and a lot of fun when we do it and it helps us work well together as a team. The dinners have been organised by the manager and all of the players think it’s a great idea.”
The togetherness showed in Saturday’s performance which was peppered with fast breaks, feints and neat backpasses.
By contrast, Arsenal looked nervous, failing to win 50-50 balls and seemingly unclear as to how to use their 58 per cent possession.
It did not help that suspended Arsene Wenger, 21 years with Arsenal, had to watch from the stands. Meanwhile, Conte cuddled the crowd, basking in the noise of his name being chanted on all sides.
Among the Arsenal fans a banner read: “Enough is enough. Time to go.”
Reporting by Clare Lovell, editing by Neil Robinson