Nemanja Matic insists Chelsea are still not the favourites for the Premier League title, despite Saturday’s 1-0 defeat of Crystal Palace giving them an 11th consecutive league win.
Their latest victory, at Selhurst Park and secured by Diego Costa’s first-half header, ensured they equalled a club-record run set in 2009-10 under Carlo Ancelotti and surpassed another set in under Jose Mourinho 2005-06, widely considered Chelsea’s greatest ever team.
It also sent them nine points clear at the top of the league, ensured they would be top at Christmas, and left them well-placed to remain there heading into 2017.
Chelsea are not only the division’s most in-form team, but also have plenty in reserve. They had Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Michy Batshuayi among their substitutes at Palace and captain John Terry is yet to return to Conte’s starting XI.
Their momentum, numerous options and minimal distractions — they are not involved in European competition — means they appear strongest placed to regain the title they lost last season, but Matic told the club’s official website: “It is a long way to go.
“We are now almost halfway through the season and we still have many hard games so we are not favourites, we are just one of the teams that can now win the title and I am sure there are more than five teams that will try to catch us for first position.
“We can improve of course. Sometimes when we are 1-0 up we have to find a way to kill the game because 1-0 in the Premier League against a team like Crystal Palace is very dangerous, because they can score at any time.
“They have good attacking players so I am sure that we can improve and that he [Conte] knows what we have to do in the future.
“We are very happy because of our form. How we play is very good and our confidence is high because to win 11 games in a row in the Premier League is not easy.
“We are very happy especially because the last three games we played in a week we won all nine points and I hope we will continue like this.”
Palace’s eighth defeat from 10 — regardless of a resilient performance — left them only a point above the Premier League’s bottom three, but their captain Scott Dann said it provided positives for them to build upon.
“We have come up against a strong team, at the top of the league and on a great run so we knew it was going to be tough,” he told Palace’s official website.
“But I thought the way we played for the majority of the match meant we maybe deserved to get something out of the game.
“It probably didn’t fall for us at the other end of the pitch but if we continue to show the right commitment and togetherness and that type of performance going forward we will start picking up points and moving in the right direction.”