LONDON — Antonio Conte revealed that his Chelsea players had been inspired by the prospect of playing at Wembley after Marcos Alonso struck late to stun Tottenham in their first Premier League home match at the national stadium.
Chelsea went into the game as underdogs after losing to Burnley on the opening weekend and were without Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and captain Gary Cahill, but took the lead on 24 minutes when Alonso curled a spectacular free kick into the top corner from 25 yards.
Spurs were finally rewarded for waves of attacking pressure when substitute Michy Batshuayi headed into his own net in the 82nd minute but as they poured forward in search of a winner, Chelsea broke and Alonso fired a low shot underneath Hugo Lloris to win it for the visitors.
Mauricio Pochettino insisted after the match that Wembley — where Tottenham have now won just one of their last 10 games in all competitions — did not exhibit, but Conte admitted that the venue and atmosphere lifted his players.
“Honestly, I think to see this atmosphere was great,” Conte said. “In this stadium, Wembley, a fantastic stadium … to feel this atmosphere is amazing, also for the opponent. It was amazing.
“I must be pleased. I want to thank my players. Every one. Because they showed me great desire, great spirit, great will, great heart, great will to fight. I saw today the fighters. I saw a lot of positive things in a moment that’s not easy for us with the suspensions and the injuries.
“We suffered during the game, but it was normal. I think that, during the game, we showed we were always dangerous in every moment. We suffered but we were ready to try and score the second goal, the third goal.
“In this atmosphere, so strong for us … our fans tried to push the same, despite 70,000 Tottenham supporters. Honestly, I think to see this atmosphere is great also for the opponent.”
The absence of Fabregas forced Conte to hand Tiemoue Bakayoko his Chelsea debut from the start despite the Frenchman being some way short of full fitness, but he unexpectedly lasted the full 90 minutes and performed solidly in a 3-5-2 formation that featured David Luiz shielding a three-man defence.
“It was the first game for Baka, but don’t forget that sometimes the motivation brings you to get over your physical condition — also if you are not at the top,” Conte said of Bakayoko. “A great stadium, great opponent, great occasion, great atmosphere brought him to have an amazing performance. But for sure he can improve. He needs to adapt more to our style of football.”
On the subject of Luiz, Chelsea’s head coach added: “It was an amazing performance from David. He played with great experience, with great personality. I think he was a point of reference for the other players. Don’t forget, today we played with four new players from last season.
On a day when club-record signing Alvaro Morata and Batshuayi struggled to give Chelsea the threat they required, Alonso emerged as the hero. Since arriving from Fiorentina on deadline day last summer, the Spaniard has scored eight goals, more than any other defender in the Premier League.
“I’m not surprised,” Conte said of Alonso’s attacking exploits. “If you remember last season, he scored six goals. The same with Moses. Alonso missed a lot of other chances to improve his [tally]. But you know very well that, for me, the wing-backs are the real wingers. Sometimes they must become strikers..