Belfast Telegraph

Antonio Conte thrilled as Chelsea respond to Tottenham and Manchester City wins

Antonio Conte has backed his Chelsea players to handle the pressure of leading the title race.

The Blues passed their latest test with a 2-1 victory at London rivals West Ham to re-establish their 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League.

Eden Hazard opened the scoring in the first half and Diego Costa hit the second after half-time to put them in control.

Manuel Lanzini hit a stoppage-time consolation for West Ham but it was too late to halt Chelsea's seemingly unstoppable charge towards reclaiming the crown.

And after nearest challengers Tottenham and Manchester City both won at the weekend, Blues boss Conte was delighted to see his players hold their nerve.

"I'm pleased for my players, it's not easy to play after your opponents played and won," he said.

"It's not easy because if you don't win you give hope to them. We played with pressure, but our answer was very good.

"I must have confidence in this. I think until now we deserve to stay on top of the table, now it's important to keep this position.

"It won't be easy. I think this league will be very tough until the end.

"I think in this period there are 'only' 11 games left, but that's a lot for me."

West Ham had been the better side for the opening 25 minutes, only to concede to Chelsea's first real attack.

From a Hammers free-kick, N'Golo Kante intercepted a loose ball near his own penalty area and in a lightning counter found Hazard, who exchanged passes with Pedro before slotting the ball past Darren Randolph.

Five minutes after half-time Costa grabbed his 17th of the season, kneeing the ball over the line after Pedro Obiang missed Hazard's corner.

Lanzini swept in Andre Ayew's pass at the death but the game was over as a contest by then.

Manager Slaven Bilic said: "I'm happy with the way we started. Then we made that mistake.

"Maybe you can do it against some teams, but not against them, with the players they have they don't miss that.

"To beat them, you need them to make mistakes, not the other way around.

"The second goal, also from our point of view, was very cheap. But they deserved to win.

"They look very serious and I can see them staying at the top with the quality they have, and with how solid they are and how concentrated they are."

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