LONDON (AP) — Antonio Conte received vocal backing from Chelsea supporters during a 3-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion on Monday that eased pressure building on the manager after back-to-back Premier League losses.
Eden Hazard scored twice, either side of Victor Moses’ strike, as Chelsea returned to fourth place and West Brom remained stranded at the bottom, seven points from safety.
“We showed a response and we did well in front of our fans,” Hazard said. “Now we have two games to play against Hull (in the FA Cup) and Barcelona (in the Champions League) … but now we are back. We are Chelsea. We are the champions. We need to give everything.”
Securing Champions League qualification is now the priority for Chelsea with any prospect of successfully defending the title evaporating long ago with leader Manchester City 19 points ahead of the champions.
Chants of “Antonio, Antonio” rang around Stamford Bridge, reflecting a desire from sections of the fan base for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to resist dismissing Conte before the end of his second season.
It still seems unlikely — given the constant grumbles about his limited control of transfer policy — that Conte will be in charge for a third campaign with the west London club.
“We are getting used to the speculation,” Conte said. “I think until the end we continue to live with this speculation. For me it is not important.”
While managers are disposable commodities for Abramovich, retaining a player with the trickery and attacking threat of Hazard is essential. Six of Chelsea’s last 10 league goals have been provided by Hazard.
The Belgium winger unpicked West Brom for the opener in the 25th minute. After holding off Gareth Barry while wriggling through the defence, Hazard played a one-two with new signing Olivier Giroud before stroking the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
West Brom, which saw on-loan Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge limp off with a hamstring injury inside three minutes, was blunt in attack. Salomon Rondon’s strike in the side netting was the closest the ailing central England team came to scoring.
Such is the unease around Chelsea these days that the hosts could only ease up after Moses produced the second in the 63rd minute.
Moses broke down the right and passed to Cesc Fabregas, whose back-heel flick took a deflection off Craig Dawson to take the ball back into the path of the wingback to slot home.
Alvaro Morata, who came off the bench for his first appearance in almost a month, set up Hazard to cut inside and find a gap in the defence to fire Chelsea’s third past Ben Foster in the 71st minute.
“We showed great character defensively and offensively,” Hazard said.
That’s now nine goals without reply for Chelsea in Conte’s four games against West Brom. The sterner test will be with Barcelona next week in the Champions League last 16.