(Reuters) - Antonio Conte reckoned his high-flying Chelsea would enjoy a very merry Christmas after ensuring they would go into the festive period top of the Premier League with a 10th straight victory on Wednesday.
Cesc Fabregas’s first-half goal at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light was enough to send the Blues six points clear of the chasing pack and even a slip up at Crystal Palace on Saturday would not stop them leading at Christmas.
This, as every Chelsea fan knows, is a pretty good omen because tradition has dictated that whenever they have led the Premier League on December 25th -- as they did in 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2014 -- they have gone on to win the title.
“For sure, it’s a happy Christmas for us but we know that in this league there is danger and I prefer that my players don’t look at the table before the Crystal Palace game, a very tough game,” Conte said after the 1-0 win.
Despite another clean sheet, Chelsea’s demanding Italian boss was still not satisfied with a performance which saw his team, without the injured Eden Hazard, fail to kill off outclassed opponents earlier.
Ultimately, they nearly paid for the missed chances with Thibaut Courtois having to pull off an excellent save to deny Patrick van Aanholt in the dying seconds.
“When you have the possibility to kill the game you must kill the game,” Conte said. “We had this possibility but we didn’t and at the end Courtois made a good save. I hope in the future we can improve.”
It was Liverpool’s Juergen Klopp who wondered aloud recently how Chelsea might cope should injury befall Hazard or Diego Costa but without half of their dynamic duo, they still eked out a win that says much about their steel and organisation.
Fabregas has not always been in favour in Conte’s regime but the manager is beginning to appreciate the Spaniard’s excellence and is finding it more difficult to ignore his ever-more persuasive claims for more playing time.
“He’s a good player for us,” Conte said. “In midfield, we have four and I think it’s important for me to evaluate the form of the players, the type of game -- sometimes you need a player who’s more physical and in others (one) with more technique.”
Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Nick Mulvenney