By Rob Lep / STAT Sports
Flashback to July 14th, 2016 amid uncertainty, instability, and a litany of question marks surrounding one of England’s premier football franchises, this day will be remembered as the day the Antonio Conte era began.
Just one year removed from a Premier League title in 2014-15 under the leadership of legendary manager Jose Mourinho, Conte addressed the media in his introductory press conference for the first time as the new man in charge at Stamford Bridge.
“I’m aware the league will be very competitive this season and I hope the title winners next season deserve to have taken home the title, said Conte. I also hope we’re slightly underrated, but I hope we’re in there, that we can surprise people and this can motivate us further. I hope there’s a small flame flickering that can burst into an inferno.”
I think it’s safe to say since the beginning of October, Chelsea has taken the rest of the League and the football world by storm, extending their winning streak to a club record 13 matches after a 4-2 victory over Stoke City at Stamford Bridge Saturday afternoon.
In the match, Cesc Fabregas registered his 100th Premier League assist joining the likes of Ryan Giggs - 162, Frank Lampard - 102, and Wayne Rooney - 101 with a cross to Gary Cahill coming off a corner kick to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.
Stoke City, who had not won at Stamford Bridge since 1974, refused to to be discouraged, answering back with the equalizer goal of their own from Bruno Martins Indi in the 46th minute to begin the second half.
After a Willian goal in the 57th minute to break the tie once again, Stoke fought back once again evening the score in the 64th minute when Peter Crouch found the back of the net for his first Premier League Goal since May of 2015.Just one minute later, Willian shot from the center of the box to the top right corner of the net past the hands of Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant.
With the score at 3-2 Chelsea in the waning moments of the match, Diego Costa scored his league leading fourteenth goal of the Premier League season to put the game out of reach in the 85th minute and send the fans home happy- closing out 2016 with great momentum heading into the new year.
“Congratulations to my players. To win 13 games in a row in this league is very difficult,” said Conte. "Now, it's important to celebrate the arrival of the new year, then to think of the next game against Tottenham.
"Stoke played very well. They hit long balls to Crouch and fought for the second ball. My players showed they can adapt to the different kinds of game we face. They showed great commitment, work-rate and will to win. I'm delighted for them.
”The loss at Stamford Bridge extends the Stoke City winless streak to five consecutive matches including losses with losses to Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool as well as two draws at home to Southampton and Leicester in consecutive matches.
"I thought we did really well, showing courage to get back in the game,” said Stoke City manager Mark Hughes. “I thought we were good value to get a draw, but we can't keep on making the mistakes we are at the moment because it's hurting us."
"We were positive, got back level and it was up for grabs. For their third goal, the ball went through about four of our players. We can't keep defending as we are in key moments. If we take that out of our game, we will be fine."
The victory puts Chelsea in uncharted territory, just one win away from matching the all time mark of 14 matches set by Arsenal back in 2002 over the course of two seasons. The 13th win of the streak ended with the Gunners clinching the Premier League title at Old Trafford vs Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. The final win of the streak came in the first match of the 2002-03 season vs Birmingham before being snapped by a 2-2 draw to West Ham one week later.
It’s only fitting that the three month perfect run for Chelsea started after a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal at Emirates back on September 24th, where the usually soft spoken Conte stated, “we are a great team only on paper, and not on the pitch.
”Over the course of this thirteen match winning streak, Chelsea has dominated every team in its path at an almost unprecedented rate, outscoring its opponents 32-4 with 10 clean sheets and scoring at least three goals on six occasions.
The Blue Lions seemingly catapulted to the top of the Premier League standings from sixth to first, changing the narrative from whether or not Conte was the answer to Chelsea’s problems to essentially what club can reach the Blues in 2017.
Chelsea will take on the Tottenham Hotspurs at White Hart Lane on Wednesday January 4th in their first match of 2017.