West Ham United 1, Chelsea 2: Antonio Conte praises Blues for handing title pressure

 
Frank Dalleres
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West Ham United v Chelsea - Premier League
Hazard finished a clinical breakaway to put Chelsea ahead (Source: Getty)

West Ham United 1, Chelsea 2

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte praised his team for withstanding pressure from their title rivals after they re-established a 10-point lead atop the Premier League with a clinical dismantling of West Ham.

The Blues took hold of the contest when Eden Hazard finished a rapier counter-attack and tightened their grip through Diego Costa's poachers' effort.

Read more: Conte refuses to take Mourinho bait after Chelsea stumble

Manuel Lanzini's stoppage-time strike for the hosts came too late to do anything more than give the scoreline a more flattering sheen.

It was a consummate champions' display - propelled by the indefatigable brilliance of N'Golo Kante - and Conte was particularly pleased to see Chelsea respond to weekend wins for Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool.

"It's not easy to play after your opponent played and won, and you know if you drop points you give hope. We played with pressure today but our answer was very good," he said.

Conte played down individual praise for Kante, joking that he misplaced five of his 50 passes: "I have to find one situation to tell him to improve. He is playing very well. He's a really good player and has a great stamina but also good quality and we are working to improve the quality."

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic, whose side remain 11th, admitted his team could have lost more heavily and tipped Chelsea to complete a title triumph.

"They aren't going to become casual, that's 100 per cent," he said. "They look very serious and I can see them staying on top with the quality they have but also with how solid, concentrated and physically in good shape they are."

West Ham were seeking successive wins over Chelsea, having knocked them out of the EFL Cup in October on a night overshadowed by clashes between supporters. Since then, however, Conte's men have been nigh-on unstoppable, winning 18 of 21 matches.

Bilic was able to select Andy Carroll for the first time in a month following a groin injury and West Ham sought to exploit his brawn with crosses and long balls. Robert Snodgrass, an intermittent threat down the left, looked most likely to supply a telling delivery but Chelsea dealt with the barrage and struck in ruthless fashion with their first meaningful attack.

It came in the 25th minute and from a West Ham free-kick. When Manuel Lanzini's shot ricocheted off the Chelsea wall, N'Golo Kante was quickest to the loose ball; a couple of seconds later the ball was in the hosts' net. The France midfielder fed Hazard, who swapped passes with Pedro before sidestepping Darren Randolph and rolling in his 11th goal of the season.

Not until the 40th minute did the hosts muster a move of quality, Lanzini shooting over from 20 yards after a penetrative run and one-two with Mark Noble. Chelsea almost reproached them with a second strike, but Aaron Cresswell blocked a goal-bound Victor Moses shot and Randolph beat away Pedro's follow-up.

The Blues struck again just after half-time, however. Pedro Obiang glanced a Cesc Fabregas corner across the face of his own goal; the lurking Costa bundled in his 18th of the season and effectively ended this contest.

West Ham did conjure a response, Sofiane Feghouli forcing Victor Moses to clear from his own goalmouth and Jose Fonte heading wide from Winston Reid's cross, but again Chelsea almost retaliated with a goal. Kante sprung another counter, Hazard fed Costa and his shot was turned wide by Randolph.

The Hammers salvaged consolation of sorts in stoppage time, when substitute Andre Ayew ran at David Luiz and teed up Lanzini to fire low past Thibaut Courtois. It was too late for many home fans to see, or to trouble Chelsea's march towards the title.

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