Chelsea boss Antonio Conte sees win as a big step towards Premier League title
Antonio Conte says Chelsea took a big step towards the Premier League title with victory over Middlesbrough and wants his players to seize the first of three chances to win the trophy at West Brom on Friday.
Goals from Diego Costa, Marcos Alonso and Nemanja Matic saw Chelsea re-establish a seven-point lead over Tottenham and relegated Boro. Antonio Conte's men can win the title before Spurs next play with victory at The Hawthorns on Friday night.
"This step was big, a big step for us. A big win," Conte said.
"Now we need to do another step. We have the possibility to do this on Friday against West Brom but for sure it won't be easy, because West Brom is a really good team, a physical team and we must pay great attention.
"Now we have three chances to exploit, to become champions.
For sure, now we are very close."
Costa scored his 20th league goal of the season, converting a pass from the excellent Cesc Fabregas, and Alonso netted from a similar position before half-time before Nemanja Matic's second-half goal.
"It wasn't easy, but we did this. I must be pleased for the performance, for the commitment, for the desire, for the will of my players.
"It's great to score three goals, to create many chances and also for another clean sheet."
Conte believes Chelsea overcame their greatest challenge when defeat at Jose Mourinho's Manchester United last month cut their lead to four points over Tottenham, who the Blues then beat in the FA Cup semi-final.
Chelsea next defeated Southampton before a win at Everton and Monday night's success against Boro.
Conte said: "Our worst moment was after the United defeat, because Tottenham won the game and to see your opponent only four points (behind) was very bad.
"Then we had to play against them in the semi-final of the FA Cup.
"At that moment we had a lot of pressure, but in that moment my players showed me great commitment, great focus, desire to overcome this moment and to try to win the league.
"Now there is the pressure, but now it's a good pressure, a pressure that this pressure must bring in our heart excitement.
"The target is very close and we must have enthusiasm, will, desire to take this target. My players deserve to win the league."
Chelsea won the 2014-15 title under Mourinho but imploded and finished 10th last term as Leicester won the title.
Now Conte is on course for a double, with the Blues facing Arsenal in the FA Cup final on May 27.
Conte added: "Last season was very bad and this season, don't forget we started with a lot of problems.
"Now we were very good to find the right way and have a fantastic season. We need another step and then to celebrate."
Conte afterwards admitted "now I'm a bit relaxed", after repeatedly focusing only on the next game.
He reserved particular praise for Fabregas, who put on a man-of-the-match performance after starting in place of the injured N'Golo Kante.
Conte said: "Cesc is one of the best examples of our season. At the start (he) didn't play a lot. Then through hard work, he improved a lot.
"Cesc is showing to be a fantastic player. I'm pleased for him, because I saw this season he put himself in this team in every moment, if he played and if he didn't play."
Fabregas helps Chelsea to play attractive football and style is important to Conte.
The Italian added: "We have our idea of football and we must continue to play always in this way, to attack - but at the same time to have good balance.
"We must continue in this way, not to think 'now we must be more defensive to try to defend a result'.
"No. This is not our way. Our way is to try to dominate the game, create chances and always have the right balance."
Conte applauded the Boro supporters and consoled some players and staff after they were consigned to a record-equalling fourth relegation from the Premier League.
The Chelsea head coach said: "I felt in my heart to go and to clap these fans and also to tell (them) good luck for next season.
"It's important to have a great respect and to clap this type of situation. I think this situation happens only in England. I don't remember in Italy."
Boro boss Steve Agnew described the devastation in the visiting dressing room a nd insisted his own future after taking control when Aitor Karanka was sacked was irrelevant.
Agnew said: "I don't think it's about my situation. It's about the football club.
"It's a Premier League football club in terms of everything about it. The supporters, the stadium, the training ground, the infrastructure is all there.
"The bottom line is we haven't won enough games and haven't scored enough goals.
"I've left a very silent dressing room. Everybody's devastated."