London rivals and title contenders clash at Wembley Stadium but Conte rejects claims that his side hold the upper hand
ANTONIO CONTE has endured understandable problems finding the right words in his first season as Chelsea’s manager.
Only yesterday, his captain Gary Cahill’s health predicament got lost in translation and was temporarily misdiagnosed as kidney stones instead of gastroenteritis.
But the Italian seemed to know exactly what he was saying in a blunt response to FA Cup semi-final opponents Spurs.
Conte showed he may not yet have mastered our language but mind games do not require an English dictionary.
Tottenham counterpart Mauricio Pochettino had hoped to take the pressure off his players’ shoulders ahead of today’s teatime clash at Wembley by claiming his team are the underdogs.
To which Conte replied: “I think now is the time for them to finish using this excuse.
“For the second year in a row they are fighting for the title and we must stop considering them as an underdog. Tottenham are now a great power in English football.
“They have been working for three years at this, they are a great team now and will fight for the title every year in future. They are full of strong players and are building something important.”
It is the second time Conte has dipped into unfamiliar territory to poke the opposition — recently claiming Spurs lack a ruthless winning mentality.
However, his quick reconstruction of a Chelsea team, which crumbled to dust last season, is in danger of collapse over a dip in form and confidence.
Training-ground routines have been toughened up this week to head off a Spurs team who now sit just four points behind them in the Premier League and who pose a genuine threat to all Conte’s rapid building work since August.
He added: “Yeah. But the pressure is normal. When you get to the end of the season and you are in a good position to reach a fantastic, extraordinary target to win the league it’s normal to have this pressure. I prefer this instead of fighting for sixth, seventh, eighth place.
“We have to enjoy this moment. My players have worked a lot to arrive at this point in the season to have this kind of game, the semi-final, and these games to win the title.
“If we think of where we started this season, I think every one of us would have signed up to have this situation now.”
Without a doubt. But the season is now at tipping point. The 13-point lead is no more and injuries and illness have ravaged Chelsea’s squad ahead of a key five-day period.
After facing Spurs today, Chelsea must regroup and steady the wobbly league form in a home match against Southampton.
Conte said: “It’s not a simple situation now for us. You have to consider that you have to play a semi-final in a great competition and then after 2½ days you have to play against Southampton, and they have rested for ten days.
“We must fight together. Then, if someone is better than us at the end of the season we must be honest and clap them.”
Honesty and sportsmanship? Two more words you do not often hear in football these days. He’ll learn.