Antonio Conte praises 'great discipline' of Diego Costa in Chelsea win
STOKE -- Antonio Conte praised Diego Costa's "great discipline" in the face of physical Stoke City defending after Chelsea battled to a 2-1 win that extends their lead at the top of the Premier League to 13 points.
An 87th-minute strike from Gary Cahill settled a heated match in favour of Chelsea after Jonathan Walters had cancelled out Willian's first-half free kick from the penalty spot, but a prominent subplot was the running battle that raged between Costa and numerous Stoke defenders.
The Spain international was booked on 17 minutes for dissent after one tussle that left him on the floor, but improved in the second half and even struck the post as Chelsea threatened to extend their lead in the final minutes.
"It is not simple to get a yellow card after a few minutes," admitted Conte, who sent back-up striker Michy Batshuayi to warm up after Costa's booking as a precaution.
"Diego is showing in all this season, not just this game, great discipline, great commitment. He showed me [his ability] to think for the team and not for himself and I want this from my players, this type of behaviour. He was great, he played a difficult game but he always showed danger for the defensive line for Stoke."
Asked if he thought Stoke had deliberately set out to rile Costa, Conte replied: "I think that it's normal to try to bring a player to be angry and then to react and to commit another foul. It's normal, this.
"I think the great news is that Diego is showing [himself] to be a great player, also in this aspect.
"I know in the past sometimes he has received two yellow cards and not finished the game, but this season I have to be pleased for him and for his behaviour."
Stoke manager Mark Hughes rejected accusations that he had briefed his players to target Costa, and instead pointed to the Spain international's frequent histrionics in the opening 45 minutes.
"We didn't do that, absolutely not," he insisted. "More likely he targeted our players, to be perfectly honest.
"We wanted a competitive game and I think that's what it was. I really enjoyed it -- a good Premier League game with no quarter given or asked.
"I played in that position for many years and I think he's an outstanding striker, but on occasions he's got elements of his play that he doesn't need to have.
"He can still have an edge, he can still have an element of looking after himself without all the rest of it. I think it takes away from his image as a player.
"It's not necessary, but maybe that's how he generates his feeling in the game and he needs that element to produce his best work. I just think it detracts from what a good player he is."
Asked if he was referring to Costa going to ground too easily, Hughes added: "Clearly, yes. On numerous occasions, and stayed down when there was nothing wrong with him as well. Don't need that."
Chelsea's win lifts them 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League with rivals Tottenham and Manchester City yet to play, and Conte -- who celebrated deliriously with the travelling supporters at the final whistle -- admitted that it meant more than most.
"This win is important, honestly," he continued. "We played two games away, against West Ham and Stoke, and to win both games is very important in this part of the season. There are 10 games to go.
"I like to think that now we need to take 21 points to be sure to win the league. But today it is important against a strong team and in a very hot stadium."