Antonio Conte insists there is more to come from Chelsea after a 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace gave the leaders a club record-equalling 11th successive league win.
Conte’s side moved nine points clear at the top ahead of third placed Arsenal’s trip to face Manchester City on Sunday and second placed Liverpool’s clash with Everton on Monday.
Saturday’s success at Selhurst Park underlined the dramatic improvement overseen by Blues boss Conte since he switched Chelsea’s formation to 3-4-3 during a defeat at Arsenal.
Since that loss, Chelsea have been unstoppable, but while Conte accepts it is down to the manager to shape his players, he insists he would not be able to successfully implement a change in tactics without having the right players at his disposal.
“I think, starting this season, the manager must be a tailor and try and find the right fit for the team,” he said.
“For sure, for me, it wasn’t easy to arrive and understand very quickly the characteristics of my players. I needed a bit of time.
“I tried a different solution before changing the formation, but I think the most important thing is the mentality, our strong mentality. Also the hard work we do on tactics, fitness and other things.
“We touched different aspects to try and improve. But I must be honest: you can bring your idea of football but if you don’t have players who follow you, it doesn’t matter.
“I’m pleased for my players. They deserve this because, every day, I see their commitment, their work-rate during the training session, their will to do something important this season.”
– Blistering streak –
While Chelsea’s blistering streak makes them firm favourites to win the title two years after they were last crowned champions, Conte isn’t getting carried away just yet.
“We still have two games before the end of the first half of the season and then 19 games before we finish the season,” he said.
“Anything can happen. It’s important we continue to work in this way and see the will to improve.
“We can improve though. You can always improve in different aspects. I am pleased with this level we have reached and with work we can improve.
“We are working very well and are in a good position. We must not look at the table and continue. We must not look at our rivals and continue work hard ourselves.”
Diego Costa’s goal secured the win but the Spain striker will miss the next match against Bournemouth after collecting a fifth yellow card of the season.
Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante will also be suspended for that game and Conte admitted the loss of two important players came as a blow.
“I must be honest, I hoped for Diego to arrive at the game against Stoke without the yellow card. It didn’t happen. It’s a pity,” he said.
“It’s a pity because he’s in a good moment of form. He didn’t deserve the yellow card today, I must be honest, but against Bournemouth we have eight days to find a different solution.
“For me, this can be an opportunity to see other solutions or other ideas. But, if you ask me if I’m disappointed to lose him and Kante, yes I’m disappointed.”
Palace’s defeat extended the club’s dismal run during 2016 and manager Alan Pardew said: “We came so close in the FA Cup final but the back end of last season gave us signs we needed to address. We needed to score goals.
“But now we’re conceding, so we have to get that balance right. We have good players and a good spirit, and I don’t have any qualms about us going forward. We’ll have a good year next year.”