Tottenham keeps on pressure, but Chelsea's hardest tests are done in EPL title race
Chelsea coach Antonio Conte was playing the oldest trick in the book when he said the title race was 50-50 between his side and Spurs a few weeks ago. Chelsea had just lost at Manchester United but still had a four-point lead over its closest challenger. Since then, the Blues have negotiated their two toughest games of the season run-in, beating Southampton 4-2 Wednesday and then, Sunday, winning 3-0 at Everton.
Spurs ensured the gap remained four points with an impressively comfortable 2-0 win over north London rival Arsenal–ensuring a higher finish than the Gunners for the first time in 22 years–but if this was a weekend that would swing the title race, it did so toward the favorite. Chelsea’s four remaining games of the season–against Middlesbrough, West Brom, Watford and Sunderland–all look winnable.
Chelsea had to be patient against an Everton team with a clear tactic. Idrissa Gueye did a man-marking job on his former Lille teammate Eden Hazard and that seemed to be working. But this Chelsea side has deep resilience, the quality all champions need, and had to be patient before taking the lead after an hour through a fantastic shot on the turn from Spanish winger Pedro. Gary Cahill and Willian, late on, added to the goals to secure the win.
“We did a good job until Pedro scored, but Chelsea have the ability to win games even when they are not playing at their highest level,” said Everton coach Ronald Koeman. “They have that quality, and once they are ahead they know how to kill the game.”
Conte has made some big selection decisions in recent weeks and they have all come off. He dropped Hazard and Diego Costa in last week’s FA Cup semifinal win over Spurs, bringing them on after an hour with the score 2-2. Hazard scored one and set up another to make it 4-2. Both started the Southampton game, with Hazard scoring one and Costa two. This time the two were less effective, but Conte has helped Pedro look more like the player he was at Barcelona, and that has taken Chelsea to within a whisker of another Premier League trophy.