LONDON (Reuters) - Antonio Conte brushed aside the praise being heaped upon him and his high-flying Chelsea team on Friday, adamant that he would not let the plaudits distract them in their surge towards the Premier League title.
Earlier, Arsene Wenger, manager of one of Chelsea’s main pursuers Arsenal, had suggested the Blues’ six-point lead meant that the title was already “theirs to lose”.
Yet Conte, while conceding that Chelsea’s 12 successive league wins represented “a great achievement”, was not buying into the idea that they were “super-favourites” when asked if he felt Wenger was trying to mess with the heads of his players.
“I think the most important things in our head must be to continue to work very hard, be focussed game by game and remember this league is not easy and that we are doing very well,” the Italian told reporters.
”At the start of the season, no one coach, no one person, no one journalist trusted in this team to fight for the title because we came after a bad season.
”But now I‘m pleased that the opinion is changing, I‘m worried because when the opinion changes quickly, you must pay attention. We only have six points more than the second-placed team (Liverpool).
“Twelve wins in a row is a great achievement but it’s not enough to win the League at this point of the season. We’ve played only 18 games. There are 20 to finish the season.”
Conte reiterated that Chelsea, who face Stoke City on Saturday, had money to spend in the transfer window but said he would not be overlooking the quality of his youthful back-up players.
“We have a lot of young players in the squad and I trust in them. With Reuben (Loftus-Cheek), (Nathaniel) Chalobah and also (Kurt) Zouma. If we can find the solution at home then it’s important to look around.”
Conte was understandably in high sprits even if he himself currently appears to be Chelsea’s main injury worry.
He blamed his assistants Carlo Cudicini and Steve Holland in jovial fashion after he picked up a hamstring injury on a training run with them.
“They ran too strong,” he said, adding that the injury would not force him to sit on the bench and tone down his trademark hyperactive jack-in-the-box impressions on the touchline.
Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Ed Osmond