Antonio Conte praised Chelsea for overcoming a crisis of confidence to end their Premier League losing run with a 3-0 victory over West Brom on Monday, and acknowledged Chelsea fans for their support of him during the match.
Jay Rodriguez and Salomon Rondon both missed gilt-edged chances for the struggling visitors at an anxious Stamford Bridge, but two goals from Eden Hazard and a strike from Victor Moses secured Chelsea’s third win from 11 matches across all competitions in 2018.
Damaging defeats against Bournemouth and Watford had left Chelsea outside the Premier League’s top four prior to kick-off and Conte’s immediate future in serious doubt. After the match, the Italian attributed his team’s early struggles to the scars of recent setbacks.
“We must be satisfied to win the game, to get three points,” Conte said. “For sure, I think we can play better. We can play with more confidence. After two bad defeats, I think our confidence went down. We started the game with a bit of difficulty.
“Then, when we scored, we dominated the game, controlled the game, created many chances to improve the game. It’s positive to see the will to fight, the will to take three points [from the players]. It was very important to keep another clean sheet. Now we have to continue in this way.”
Conte handed Olivier Giroud his first Chelsea start and the Frenchman validated his head coach’s choice with a committed display, setting up Hazard’s opener and battling West Brom defenders until the hour mark, when he was replaced by Alvaro Morata.
Giroud will be fit to feature in the FA Cup fifth round against Hull City on Friday, despite the accidental kick from Ahmed Hegazi that left him with a bandaged head. And Conte is looking for both of his strikers to find sharpness on the pitch ahead of a crucial run of fixtures.
“We must be pleased for Giroud’s performance,” he added. “It was the first time he has played from the start for us. He needs to improve, to go into our idea of football, but to have a point of reference like Olivier is very important.
“We must be very pleased because, on the same night, we found also Morata. He played very well in the last 30 minutes, with great personality and speed. Now the most important thing for us is that these two players find their best physical condition.
“Morata has suffered for a month with this pain in his back, and I hope we’ve solved this situation. Giroud is coming back from a muscular problem so it’s important he goes into our idea of football, into the right position. The first goal was a clear example of our idea.”
Chelsea supporters at Stamford Bridge made clear their enduring support for Conte by chanting his name throughout the match, and the Italian acknowledged their appreciation.
“For sure I have to thank the fans,” he continued. “They showed me great support because I think they are reading speculation and rumours about me. For sure, I’m grateful to the fans for supporting me in this way. It means that, maybe in our 18 months together, they understand my passion and my will to defend these colours, this shirt, this badge.
“To feel this atmosphere around me is very important. It’s very important to feel that people appreciate my work here in Chelsea. Me and the players are trying to do our best to give them the best satisfaction. Sometimes we can do this, sometimes not, but the will is always present.”
Meanwhile, Hazard attempted to play down the significance of Chelsea’s earlier defeats to Bournemouth and Watford and praised the squad for sticking together.
He told Sky Sports: “It sometimes happens: you win games, it sometimes happens: you lose.
“Last year we were champions and the most important thing is to be together, to work together, talk together and that’s what we did. We showed great character defensively and offensively, that’s good.
“We showed a response and we did well in front of our fans, it’s always good to play this type of game, now we have two games to play against Hull and against Barca.
“It’s not a good moment for us because we lost two games but now we are back, we are Chelsea, we are the champions and we need to give everything.”
On Giroud, Hazard added: “He’s a great target man, maybe one of the best in England, so when we pass the ball we can go around him, not just me but Pedro and Willian when we are playing.”