Costa fires Chelsea to top of Premier League table
Middlesbrough 0 Chelsea 1
Antonio Conte is refusing to consider Chelsea Premier League title favourites despite seeing them climb to the top of the table with victory at Middlesbrough.
Diego Costa's first half strike secured a 1-0 win at the Riverside which extended the Blues' recent run to six league victories, all of them negotiated without conceding a goal.
But, asked if they are now title favourites after leapfrogging Liverpool and Manchester City, Conte said: "Now it's very difficult to reply to this because if you see the recent past only one and a half months ago and see that Chelsea had two defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal. After these two games, Chelsea wasn't a favourite or a team that could fight for the title until the end.
"Now it's very difficult to change completely that opinion. I think we are working very well, but if you ask me what is our target now, I repeat it is very difficult to tell you this.
"I want to wait until the end of the first part of the championship."
Chelsea have now played 590 minutes of top-flight football since their 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on September 24 without conceding, and that too is something Conte admits he could not have predicted.
He said: "I am pleased because in this league, it is very difficult to have this success and to win these six games in a row is fantastic."
Asked if his team was the best in the country on current form, Conte was equally coy.
He said: "When you arrive at a new club after a bad season like last year, you don't know what the response of the players will be because you lose a bit of confidence in your capacity.
"I am pleased because I know and also the players and our fans know Chelsea must fight until the end for something. But if you ask me if I was sure about this at the start of the season, it's very difficult."
Boro gave as good as they got for long periods in the game and, with goalkeeper Victor Valdes in inspired form, might have emerged with something to show for their efforts.
Head coach Aitor Karanka was disappointed with the result, but delighted with much of what he saw. Karanka said: "Playing against teams like Chelsea, we knew that it was going to be a really, really tough game, but once again we showed everybody that we can compete against the best teams in the league and once again, one mistake punished us.
"To concede a goal from a set piece is a mistake. I don't want to blame any player because I say always we win as a team and we lose as a team, but when you concede a goal from a set piece for me, it is a mistake.
"You can't be pleased when you have lost a game, especially at home, but I am really pleased with the attitude of the players because playing in the way that we have been doing in the last month and a half, we are in the right way."
Twenty-year-old winger Adama Traore repeatedly threatened to make Chelsea pay for not killing off the game, but ultimately failed to capitalise on a series of chances.
Karanka said: "It's normal that everybody is excited when he has the ball, but he has the ball three or four minutes in one game and the rest of the game is 87 minutes, so we have to be careful.
"He is doing really well, he is improving a lot, but he has much more to improve and much more to learn. Because he's young, he can (improve) and, going in this way, for sure he can be a big, big player."
MIDDLESBROUGH: Valdes, Barragan, Chambers, Gibson, Fabio (Downing, 71 mins), Clayton (Fischer, 73 mins), Traore, De Roon, Forshaw (Leadbitter, 89 mins) Ramirez, Negredo. Unused subs: Guzan, Bernardo, Rhodes, Nsue
CHELSEA: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses (Ivanovic, 89 mins) Kanye, Matic, Alonso; Pedro (Chalobah, 80 mins) Costa, Hazard (Oscar, 90 mins). Unused subs: Begovic, Fabregas, Terry, Batshuayi
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Man of the match: Diego Costa
Match rating: 7/10