Antonio Conte has challenged his Chelsea players to make history by beating Sunderland on the Premier League’s final day after a 4-3 win over Watford on Monday secured the Blues a record-equalling 29th victory in the competition this season.
Goals from departing captain John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta, Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fabregas narrowly earned all three points for a Chelsea starting XI that featured nine changes from the side that clinched the Premier League title with a 1-0 win against West Brom on Friday.
The result moved Conte’s men onto 29 Premier League wins for the season — level with Jose Mourinho’s title-winning Chelsea team of 2004-05 — with already-relegated Sunderland set to be their final opponents at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
And after the match Conte set his players a new target of becoming the first team in Premier League history to reach the 30-win mark.
“I made this decision to change a lot of players with the opportunity, above all, for our young players to start this game,” Conte said.
“This was an important game because it’s the first game that we are champions. I must be pleased because we conceded three goals, but we scored four, and also we created many chances to improve the final result. I had good answers from the game.
“We won our 29th game this season, so it’s a great achievement. We have the possibility to win 30 games. We have to fight to try and reach this target now. It’s important for the players. The most important thing is to win the league, but then you can write some records … that’s important for the history.”
Despite his desire to break the win record, however, Conte suggested that he will give Chelsea’s fringe players another chance to impress against Sunderland as he prepares for an FA Cup final clash with Arsenal later this month.
“In this situation, you must have a plan in your mind,” he added. “I think the FA Cup final, you don’t play that on Saturday. You start to play the final 10 days before. For this reason, in my head, I have a plan to try to arrive to play the final in the best condition, in the best situation for my players.”
Conte handed Batshuayi as well as youngsters Kenedy, Nathan Ake and Nathaniel Chalobah their first Premier League starts of the season against Watford, while Ola Aina came on as a substitute but Ruben Loftus-Cheek was absent in the match day squad.
Conte said this was due to injury, and added that the England under-21 midfielder may leave Stamford Bridge on loan next season.
“He’s struggling with a pain in his back,” Conte said of Loftus-Cheek. “It’s a pity because for sure today was a good opportunity for him. Ruben is a really good player. He is an important prospect for me, and we have to take the best decision for him for next season.
“But in the future, Ruben is a player from our academy with good prospects to become a Chelsea player.”