Chelsea completed their 13th straight victory against a spirited Stoke side who twice equalised at Stamford Bridge, but Diego Costas 85th-minute goal sealed their 4-2 Premier League win
This was a wholly fitting summation of the thrill that has been Antonio Contes first six months at Chelsea, a frenzy of a contest to see out the year with the leaders, untouchable since the end of September, savouring a 13th victory in succession. Stoke City offered far more of a test of the leaders credentials than plenty of others in that sequence but still ended defeated, even if there was no disgrace in that. It is more than three months since anyone found a way of checking this team. They appear unstoppable.
The next side to try will be Tottenham Hotspur, bitter rivals still smarting from the critical damage inflicted to last seasons title challenge here back in May, but they will do well to contain them.
Chelsea were pegged back twice by an impressive Stoke team, the hosts back-line unnerved by Peter Crouch, but the leaders self-confidence never wavered. They continued to sweep forward, convinced those forays would yield reward, and, eventually, buried Stokes intent beneath a two-goal lead.
It was Diego Costa who settled the occasion, thrashing home a wonderful 14th club goal of the term from a tight angle after turning Bruno Martins Indi five minutes from time. Only then could Conte skip down the touchline in delight in the knowledge the day was truly won.
When you win a lot in a row, there is a great danger to be satisfied too early, he said. Its not easy to show the character and reaction, above all after 12 wins in a row. After their second equaliser, we could easily be relaxed and think that, in the end, weve won a lot in the past so a draw, if we dont win, is not important. But my players showed a great will to fight, a great will to win, a great will to take this great achievement for us. Im pleased for them and they deserve this.
This equalled the record for consecutive victories within a single season and another at White Hart Lane on Wednesday would bring Chelsea level with Arsenal for the all-time winning tally set over two campaigns of 14. Conte has made clear he cares little for such statistical achievements though, in the context of last seasons toils and this sides apparent shortcomings in the autumn, the sequence already feels remarkable. It is astonishing to think they have dropped eight points by the seasons halfway point, and played in a fashion which has provoked admiration rather than envy from most onlookers. The challenge will change from now on in.
We started this season as underdogs, underestimated,said Conte. But now the light is on Chelsea. Well have to work harder still to find, game by game, the right solution and carry on winning. It wont be easy but, today, we are very happy.
This had been a real test of their credentials. Stoke were awkward opponents, Crouch unsettling a back three who had only previously been breached twice in 12 matches. It was the former England striker who leapt above Gary Cahill and nodded Charlie Adams deep free-kick back across goal for Martins Indi to volley the visitors level 55 seconds into the second period.
The 35-year-old forward would be rewarded himself just after the hour-mark with his teams second equaliser, side-footed in from the edge of the six-yard box from Mame Dioufs centre after NGolo Kant had missed his kick with the home sides rearguard, initially shrinking from Crouch, pulled out of position by the substitute Bojans dart into enemy territory.
There were other awkward moments when Chelsea threatened to conceded again. Yet, where Stoke intent could never be questioned, their defending proved more accommodating.
Mark Hughes was left to bemoan the winner a throw-in which bounced in our six-yard box and the lapse of concentration that led to parity squandered immediately on the second occasion the visitors drew level, but acknowledged the opponents were devastating on the break.
Lee Grants superb reactions had frustrated the home side for a while, but some of the fragility that blighted Stokes start to the season has crept back in of late. Too many of Chelseas rewards were easily achieved.
Cahills header from Cesc Fbregas corner had forced them ahead, though it was Willian who would edge them back in front twice thereafter. Victor Mosess flash of skill dumped Erik Pieters on the turf, the wing-backs cross touched into the Brazilians path by Eden Hazard and the left-foot finish unerring.
His second came from Fbregass 100th Premier League assist, a pass placed inside Pieters that Willian hammered home.
He had been Chelseas player of the year in last seasons toils and having initially lost his place after being granted compassionate leave following the death of his mother he is now back to his best.
We all know the difficult period through which he passed. So Im pleased for him, said Conte. Hes a really good guy and deserves this.
This whole squad will go into the new year buoyed. Theirs is an air of invincibility at present.