LONDON — Antonio Conte joked that Alvaro Morata needs to take Cesar Azpilicueta out for dinner a few times to repay the defender for assisting six of his 10 Premier League goals this season.
Morata headed in Azpilicueta’s deep cross a minute after half-time to put Chelsea on course for a routine 2-0 home win over Brighton on Boxing Day, with Marcos Alonso making sure of the result when he glanced in an inviting Cesc Fabregas corner at the near post on the hour mark.
Chelsea dominated their opponents before and after the goals, registering 25 total shots and 13 corners, but it was the “great link” between Morata and Azpilicueta that an upbeat Conte — who led a Christmas toast of Champagne for the assembled media at the end of his postmatch press conference — was keen to highlight as he praised his team’s overall performance at Stamford Bridge.
“Yeah, but he has to score also,” Conte joked when asked about Azpilicueta’s six assists. “As you know very well, Azpi is a defender with good feet.
“There is this great link between him and Alvaro. This wasn’t the first time [they combined for a goal]. I hope it continues in this way because we need his assists and Morata to score. Morata has to pay not one dinner but more dinners to Azpi. And, if they invite me, I want to go.”
Chelsea’s sixth successive home win in the Premier League provided the response Conte had been looking for after his side were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday.
“I have seen the stats,” he added. “We shot 25 times, eight on target, 13 corners, had a lot of possession… I think we dominated the game in the same way as at Everton. The difference today in the second half was we scored twice.
“We had many chances to improve the final result but I think I saw good intensity, great commitment from my players. We wanted to win this game. I think it’s very important for us to start the second half of the season with a win. We are doing a good job, but we have to continue in this way.”
Manchester United’s failure to beat Burnley at Old Trafford enabled Chelsea to close to within one point of second place in the Premier League as 2018 approaches. Manchester City remain in control of the title race, but Conte insisted that his team still have plenty to aim for in the league.
“I think in this league there is a great motivation for all,” he added. “[We want] to try to stay there and to fight until the end. I don’t know if it will win the title because it depends upon Manchester City. They are doing something extraordinary to win every game and draw only once up to now.
“That means you’re having a fantastic run. Otherwise, Chelsea, United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool would be staying there to fight. We fight for a place in the Champions League next season. There are four places for six top teams. Last season, United and Arsenal finished fifth and sixth.
“There is this great motivation for me, for the players, and we want to try and improve. Our start wasn’t easy this season, for many reasons. But we want to work and improve. There are many competitions. It’s important to face every competition and be very proud to play every game.”
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.