Chelsea’s record attempt faces test at Tottenham but their manager knows the lead they have in the Premier League is more important than a place in history
When Antonio Conte thought about what to name his daughter, he wanted something beautiful and also something that would resonate with him. In the end, there was only one choice. He and his wife, Elisabetta, called her Vittoria, which translates from the Italian as Victory.
“This name is nice and it’s an important name – above all, in England,” the Chelsea manager said, with a smile. “My wife is Elizabeth, so I have two English queens! It was because I knew one day I would arrive here in England to work. I wanted this name for my daughter. I like the name and then, I like the word [and its meaning].”
Conte has been obsessed by winning since long before Vittoria came along – she is now nine – and he has spoken of how he struggles to sleep on the night before a match, such is the sense of anticipation, and how he finds it even more difficult the night afterwards if his team have not won.
It is easy to present Conte as a restless soul, one who can never work hard enough and for whom victory is the only thing that sates him; which makes it all feel worthwhile. The temptation would be to say he ought to be pretty content, because his team stand on the brink of equalling the top-division record in English football for consecutive wins.
If Chelsea beat Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night, they will extend their sequence to 14 games, which Arsenal managed in 2002. But that run was spread over two seasons – with 13 having come at the end of 2001-02 and one more at the beginning of the following campaign.
Conte, though, does not do contentedness; at least, not halfway through a season. He is pleased Chelsea have won 13 on the spin to put themselves clear at the top and he also made the point that “at the start of the season, no one could imagine this”.
But what stuck in the mind from Conte’s briefing with the media was how he saw the wins mainly for the points they have provided. “This is a great achievement – above all because now, after these 13 wins in a row, we took 39 points,” Conte said. And what do points make? Yes. Surprise championship triumphs.
It was equally noticeable that Conte stressed how Liverpool were only five points adrift in second place and it was plain he was not about to get carried away by the prospect of equalling Arsenal’s winning record or even overhauling it for a single top‑flight season.
Conte did attempt to quantify what Chelsea had achieved with their sequence and he did so in the context of what is a hugely competitive six-way fight for the title. In his final season at Juventus, which was 2013-14, Conte’s team won 12 successive fixtures in Serie A from late October to late January but, he suggested, there were more easy games in that division. Juventus ended up winning the championship with a record 102 points.
“In that moment, in the Italian league, there was only Roma to try to fight for the title,” Conte said. “Here, there is a different situation because there are six teams that are very strong. Last season, all of our rivals were placed above us and, also, they spent a lot of money – more than us. For this reason, I think it’s more difficult here in England to keep this position.”
Conte’s claim that the other members of the top six had spent more than Chelsea last summer did not bear scrutiny. It was only the Manchester clubs that did so, in terms of fees and net spend.
However, he was on safer ground when he talked up the factors behind his club’s excellent first half to the season, which included his players’ willingness to embrace the change of formation to three at the back and the bravery of some – notably David Luiz – to play on through the pain of injuries. The centre-half, according to Conte, has been “playing in this situation” since the win at City on 3 December, when he was the victim of a high, red-card tackle by Sergio Agüero.
He described Spurs as being “better” and “stronger” than they were last season, partly because what is a young team have had more time under Mauricio Pochettino.
It was interesting to hear him single out the defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama for praise. “This season, there is a very important player for Pochettino, who is Wanyama,” Conte said. “I like his quality and quantity – in terms of his stamina, work rate and commitment.”
Conte said Pochettino could be “one of the best coaches in the world” and he discussed the similarities in their approaches, which took in the desire to build from the back with options, prepare in meticulous fashion and be clinical. A tantalising showdown beckons. For Conte, as ever, victory will be everything.