Antonio Conte has set his leaders a target of six wins from their remaining eight games to take their points tally to 90, one more than nearest rivals Tottenham can achieve even if they win all of their remaining fixtures.
Chelsea’s shock defeat to Crystal Palace at the weekend prompted questions whether the long-time leaders – they have been top since November 20 – were about to stumble.
But defender Azpilicueta says the win over Manchester City proved they have the mental toughness to cope.
He said: “It was a massive game after the defeat on Saturday. I’m sure our rivals were waiting for us to drop that mental strength and lose points again.
Cesar Azpilicueta believes Chelsea showed character to come back and beat Manchester City
Antonio Conte has set his side a target of winning six of their remaining eight games
“We feel the pressure because we know it’s only a month and half to the end of the season and we are in the best position to be in. We were disappointed to lose three points at home to Palace but we recovered and coped really well.
“We came back in a strong way against a really tough team. We showed our character and we worked really hard.”
The Spain international admits it was not a vintage Chelsea display but insists results rather performances are what counts at the business end of the season.
“Maybe it wasn’t our best game but what matters now are the points,” he added. “Against Palace, we played better than in a lot of games that we won this season but we lost so it’s just important to get the points no matter how you play.”
Eden Hazard's two goals gave Chelsea a crucial win against Man City
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Chelsea, who also face title rivals Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final later this month, are on course for a double but Azpilicueta says Conte’s squad have banned any premature trophy talk.
“No, we came from eighth position when we lost against Arsenal [in September]. We have been working really hard to be top but it’s true, nothing is won yet. There are eight games to play, and we have the semi-final of the FA Cup, so at this stage, we haven’t got any silverware and we have to continue to fight for it.
“At the moment, all of the teams would like to be in our position so we know that every team are waiting for us to drop points but we have to be strong enough to keep the lead and to finish the season in this position.”
Azpilicueta, described by Conte as one of the best defenders in the world, says he was comfortable with his manager’s decision to move him out of his regular position in the back three for the first time in a League game since September.
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Thibaut Courtois – 5
He replaced Victor Moses as wing-back but was moved back at half-time when Nemanja Matic replaced Kurt Zouma, Pedro dropped into the wing back role and Chelsea closed down the game in trademark fashion.
“I don’t have any problem,” he said, “I always try to adapt as quickly as possible. The manager told me to start right wing-back and I tried to do my best, then he decided I should go into the back three, so there is no problem.
“When I play with the national team, I play right-back in a back four, but for the last few months for my club I have played in the back three. I’ve worked really hard with the manager and to get the results we are getting is important.
“I saw his comments about me. It pleased me because I try to train hard to be available for the manager and I’ve learned a lot from him. When we switched the system [to a back three] it was new for all of us and we worked really hard, starting with him.
“To come to England and in the first year to be in first position with a chance of winning two trophies shows the manager is doing an amazing job.”
Meanwhile, Thibaut Courtois says Chelsea must keep Real Madrid target Eden Hazard if they are to challenge for the Champions League and Premier League next season.
Hazard scored both goals in the win over City prompting his fellow Belgian to say: “Eden showed again against City that he is one of the best players in the world. Chelsea have ambitions to win the Champions League again and always look to play for the Premier League title. If you want to do that, you need the biggest players and he is obviously a big part of that.”