Antonio Conte has ramped up the pressure on Tottenham Hotspur ahead of their FA Cup semi-final meeting with Chelsea on Saturday, saying they can no longer hide behind Mauricio Pochettino’s underdog tag as an “excuse”, and that it is now the “right moment” for Spurs to step up as they are a “really great power in English football”.
While the title race and build-up to this seismic clash between the Premier League top two has generally been respectful, both managers have conspicuously attempted some ‘mind games’, with Pochettino saying on Thursday that he felt his team were “underdogs”. That is despite the fact a rampant Spurs have recently closed the gap on a suddenly ailing Chelsea to just four points.
Given the potential effect of this FA Cup match on the league, Conte looked to turn the screw. “I think that Tottenham must be considered at the top, because Tottenham now is a really great power in English football. They have been working three years and I think it’s the right moment to to not consider him underdog and have this excuse.
"They are a great team and for the second year are fighting for the title. Last year they missed this, this year they are trying again, and I think in the future they will fight every year for the title because they are full of strong players and they are building something important. There is a moment where you have to finish to be considered yourself. I think this is the right moment.”
Conte did deny this match would have any effect on the title race.
“I think these are two different competitions, the FA Cup, great competition, great tradition, the oldest competition in the world, very important for the country, and then there is the league. Two different competitions. I don’t think if one team wins or loses it can affect the other competition.”