Bring it on, Tottenham, bring it on. That is the message from Antonio Conte, who says Spurs’ relentless pursuit of Chelsea at the top of the Premier League is helping to bring the best out of him and his team.
Spurs moved to within four points of Chelsea by thrashing Watford 4-0 at lunchtime but Chelsea then re-established their seven-point lead by winning 3-1 at Bournemouth. “I’m very satisfied because it wasn’t easy to play this game after the win for Tottenham but our answer was very good,” Conte said. “When you play after your opponent and you see your opponent very close, it can bring a bit of pressure. I’m very happy to face this type of situation, to play with only four points in front of our opponent.
“I like the pressure, I live off pressure. I don’t see pressure, I put [on] pressure. I think pressure gives you the best of yourself.”
Spurs have won six league matches in a row and gained hope from Chelsea’s surprising home defeat to Crystal Palace. But since then Chelsea have beaten Manchester City and now Bournemouth, convincing their manager the Palace setback was a freak occurrence. They need 15 points from their seven remaining matches to become champions but Conte sees the title as very much up for grabs and warned his players Spurs could seize it if Chelsea drop their standards.
“We have to stay focused and concentrated because it’s sure Tottenham has great desire to win the title. Don’t forget that last season Tottenham fought for the title until the end. That means they are a really good team. And Tottenham is stronger than last season. It’s important to understand this.
“There are seven games to go. Our schedule is not easy. We know this but it’s important to go game by game. After the result against Crystal Palace where we didn’t deserve to lose, we could have dropped points against City and then against Bournemouth. Instead we won both games. We have to continue this way.”
Eddie Howe’s assessment of Bournemouth’s defeat had ominous overtones for teams hoping for a Chelsea slip-up. Chelsea raced into a 2-0 lead before Josh King cut the deficit but, just as Bournemouth began believing in a comeback, Chelsea held them off before pulling away. “They key thing is they are a very difficult team to chase the game against,” he said.
Mauricio Pochettino, speaking before Chelsea had played, said Spurs needed “patience, time and a little bit of luck” if they were to chase down the leaders. There was little in the way of good fortune needed against Watford once Dele Alli had opened the scoring and, after Eric Dier’s effort and two goals from Son Heung-min had made it 4-0, the Tottenham manager was able to give Harry Kane a workout on his return from injury.
“I think we are more strong with Kane and ready to fight again,” Pochettino said. “I think this is very important. You use a lot of players in the squad and all the players are very important in the season.”