London (AFP) – Antonio Conte is relieved to have options again up front in Olivier Giroud and fit-again Alvaro Morata ahead of what the Italian says is a “massive” few weeks for Chelsea.
Giroud’s touch set up Eden Hazard for the opening goal as Chelsea rolled over rock-bottom West Bromwich Albion 3-0 on Monday.
It moved them back into the Premier League top four and eased the mounting pressure on Conte following shock defeats to Bournemouth and Watford in their previous two outings.
Conte had been unable to name a recognised striker in either of those matches with Morata sidelined for nearly a month due to a back injury and Giroud only having joined from Arsenal on January 31.
“We must be pleased for the Giroud performance,” Conte said of the Frenchman, who was replaced by Morata on the hour after a battling display in which he had his head bandaged and took a blow to the ankle.
“(It) was the first time to play from the start with us. For sure he needs to improve to go into our way of football, but to have a point of reference like Olivier is very important.
“We must be pleased because in the same night we found also Morata.
“I think he played very well in the last 30 minutes with great personality, with great spirit.”
Conte confirmed Giroud will be fit for Hull City’s visit to Stamford Bridge on Friday in the FA Cup fifth round before three blockbuster clashes that will go a long way to deciding the outcome of Chelsea’s season.
The blues host Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on February 20 before back-to-back Premier League visits to Manchester United and runaway league leaders Manchester City.
“Today was very important to get three points because only after a win you can consider a game as easy,” added Conte.
“We want to go to the next round (against Hull) then to prepare the game against Barcelona and then United and City. Three massive games for us.”
– Fans back Conte –
Chelsea’s recent slump and Conte’s outspoken comments over his lack of input to the club’s recruitment strategy had seen the odds slashed on him becoming the latest coach to be fired by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
But the Chelsea fans showed they were still fully behind Conte by chanting his name continuously throughout the second half.
“For sure to feel this atmosphere around me is very important,” added Conte.
“It’s very important to feel the people is appreciating my work here in Chelsea.
“Me and the players, we are trying to do our best to give them the best satisfaction.
“Sometimes we are able to do this, sometimes we are not able, but the will is always present.”
A strike from Victor Moses and Hazard’s brilliant second of the game rounded off another costly night for West Brom, who are seven points adrift of safety at the bottom of the table and lost Daniel Sturridge to a hamstring injury.
“He was distraught really because his personality and way he has worked at our place has been of the highest order,” manager Alan Pardew said of the on-loan Liverpool striker, whose career has been dogged by injuries.
“He’s devastated because he wants this period to be a success not just for him but for West Brom.”