STOKE-ON-TRENT, UK: Chelsea manager Antonio Conte described Diego Costa as an example to his teammates after the Premier League leaders went 13 points clear with a 2-1 win at Stoke City.
The infamously feisty Costa, dropped in January after reports of a row with Conte, was left walking a disciplinary tightrope after being booked for simulation in the 16th minute of Saturday’s game at the Bet365 Stadium.
The controversial Spain striker was involved in numerous clashes with Stoke players, particularly center-backs Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi, but managed to remain on the pitch and Conte praised the way Costa refused to be baited.
“It’s not easy when you receive a yellow card after a few minutes,” said Conte, whose side prevailed courtesy of an 87th-minute winner by center-back Gary Cahill.
“The rule is it’s normal to make a player angry and to get him to react and to commit another foul.
“I think Diego is showing not only in this game that you have to be very disciplined. Diego is showing himself to be a great player in this way.
“He showed me great commitment and showed he was playing for the team and not for himself. I want that from my players and that behavior from my players.
“In the past sometimes he has been given two yellow cards. This season I’ve been pleased with him because of his behavior.”
Cahill fired home the winner as Chelsea left it late after Jonathan Walters’s penalty seven minutes before the break cancelled out Willian’s 13th-minute free kick.
Cahill went from villain to hero, having pushed Walters to concede the spot-kick.
Chelsea looked the more likely winners in the second half as Marcos Alonso and Costa hit the woodwork and Stoke goalkeeper Lee Grant denied Pedro.
Chelsea’s fifth straight win in all competitions extended their run to 12 matches without defeat and ended Stoke’s eight-game unbeaten home record in the league.