Chelsea are confident they will avoid the imposition of a points deduction as they contemplate their latest charge of failing to control their players, at Manchester City last weekend, with Antonio Conte dismissing the possibility of such a sanction as “a joke”.
The Premier League leaders, who re-established a three-point advantage at the top with a 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, were charged last week with a breach of Rule E20 for a fifth time in 19 months after Sergio Agüero’s wild lunge at David Luiz sparked a mass brawl on the touchline in stoppage time at the Etihad Stadium eight days ago.
The Football Association’s independent disciplinary commission had branded Chelsea’s persistent breaches of the rules as “abysmal” when fining them £375,000 and warning them about their future conduct after ugly scenes in May’s fractious derby against Tottenham Hotspur, and had concluded: “The time cannot be too far distant when a commission concludes the only proper sanction is a points deduction.” Those four previous charges had taken place under the stewardship of José Mourinho and Guus Hiddink.
Conte was incredulous when confronted with the prospect in the aftermath of his team’s ninth Premier League win in succession, and pointed out it had been Agüero’s challenge – the Argentina forward is currently sitting out a four-match ban – which had sparked the fracas in Manchester. “For me, if you are involved in a situation where you are not at fault, why must you pay?” the Italian said. “Why? I don’t understand this. At the end of the Manchester City game, my players tried to keep their calm. It would be a joke [if the FA imposed such a punishment on his club]. You must be honest and understand which team is at fault.
“We are trying to improve all aspects, and also this. We had a bad record in the past, but now we are different. I don’t know what happened in the past. I know what is happening in the present, and that is why I ask if this is a joke or not. After the game between City and Chelsea, you could see very clearly that my players tried to keep their calm.”
Diego Costa’s goal defeated a stubborn West Brom side to force Chelsea three points clear at the top of the division, with Conte gaining more satisfaction from the result than his side’s swashbuckling recent demolition of Everton at Stamford Bridge. “I do because, when you have an easy win, sometimes you can lose concentration or focus,” the Italian said.
“But this game was so difficult. My team showed me great character, great attention and great motivation to try and win. They are such a tough team to break down, so I’m pleased. Today we showed great maturity and patience to find the right solution and win.”
Chelsea have now won nine games in succession and have winnable contests at Sunderland and Crystal Palace this week, before Bournemouth and Stoke City visit Stamford Bridge before the end of the month. The prospect of this team eclipsing Arsenal’s Premier League record of 14 wins in succession is suddenly very real. “But I’m not interested in the record,” Conte said. “All I want is to gain three points and stay top of the table, fighting for something important.”
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