LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea have suffered defeat after taking the lead in several key games this season but Antonio Conte’s side found some much-needed resolve on Sunday to boost their hopes of a top-four finish with a 1-0 win over Liverpool.
Coming into Sunday’s pivotal Premier League fixture at Stamford Bridge - a match they needed to win to narrow the gap on the top four - only Arsenal had taken fewer points than Chelsea from matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season.
Chelsea have often started well and scored first against top quality opposition but all too often have been pegged back.
Chelsea led against Arsenal in January but were denied a win in stoppage time, took the lead at Manchester United in February and lost, did the same that month versus Barcelona and drew and went ahead at home to Tottenham Hotspur in April and lost.
So when on Sunday Chelsea took a first-half lead, somewhat against the run of play, versus Liverpool in a must-win contest, their fans will have been forgiven for fearing the worst.
However, against a forward line that had just scored seven times in the Champions League semi-final aggregate win over AS Roma, Chelsea stood firm, and rarely looked like conceding.
“The players played a really good game,” manager Antonio Conte said. “Usually when you have to play a must-win game, it is not easy. It is normal to be a bit nervous.
“Today, it was must-win game but not against a simple opponent. The have just reached the final of the Champions League. One month ago, it was impossible to imagine we could fight for a place in the Champions League. Now there is hope.”
That hope resulted from Conte’s side keeping things simple, digging in and defending in numbers.
Chelsea’s 23 interceptions on Sunday were the most they have made in the current Premier League campaign and only twice have they made more clearances in a top-flight contest this term.
On a scorching afternoon in the capital it required a great deal of commitment to ensure Chelsea saw the game out, and the players responded by giving their all, with eight of the 11 starters covering over 10 km in the Bank Holiday heat.
The result means Chelsea, who looked out of contention for a top-four finish just a month ago, picked up their fourth straight league win at the perfect time to apply the pressure.
With the players showing a hunger for the cause once more, third-placed Liverpool, who have played a game more, and London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in fourth — three and two points above Chelsea respectively — are under pressure in the season finale.
Editing by Ken Ferris