Tottenham assistant Cristian Stellini laughed off his 100 per cent record while deputising for Antonio Conte and revealed a potential return date for his manager following a vital 2-0 win over West Ham.
Stellini again guided Spurs to a crucial victory – like against Marseille and Manchester City earlier this season – after second-half goals from Emerson Royal and Son Heung-min secured London derby bragging rights and sent them above Newcastle into fourth.
It ensured Tottenham ended a difficult week on a high after back-to-back defeats to Leicester and AC Milan had been followed by the news Conte was back off work after doctors ordered him to rest after he rushed his return following gallbladder surgery on February 1.
Conte was able to be involved during Sunday’s match to advise his coaching staff of tactical decisions via text as his long-serving assistant Stellini made it six wins from six when he has deputised, having also clinched three victories during their time together at Inter Milan.
“This happened because Antonio is the gaffer, not because I am the gaffer,” Stellini said.
“I only follow the project of his work and the way he works is really clear.
Your two goalscorers this evening ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/gOqrxUYjvV
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) February 19, 2023
“I am not expecting Antonio is back for Chelsea (next weekend) but I expect Antonio will be back the week after Chelsea. For Milan or Wolverhampton.
“We have also the game in the FA Cup (against Sheffield United) so maybe not Chelsea but we don’t know because if Antonio feels well and he can live some stress without some pain or feel something strange, Antonio will be back.”
Conte would have seen a trademark first-half display by Spurs from his Italian home with chances limited to a premium but it was his wing-backs who broke the deadlock in the 56th minute when Ben Davies collected Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s pass and teed up Emerson for the opener.
It was then over to super-sub Son, who responded to being dropped for only the second time this season when fit with a slick finish from Harry Kane’s pass with 18 minutes left.
Son hit a hat-trick against Leicester when dropped in September but has only scored in five out of his 31 appearances this campaign and Stellini revealed his place on the bench was due to a physical issue for last season’s joint-Premier League golden boot winner.
He added of the South Korea international: “We know that Sonny’s response would be perfect because Sonny is a perfect guy.
“But after the World Cup, sometimes it happens that the players are not fit 100 per cent. In that moment you have to take a decision and it is difficult with a player like Sonny to drop them, but you have to do it because we have a lot of matches.
“When he plays five games in a row, sometimes you can feel tired and you can feel something is not perfect.
“It is important for us that the player is mature enough to say this.
A weekend of change at the top of the table 👀 pic.twitter.com/PgaKef6oa9
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 19, 2023
“Sonny in this case was perfect during the week but now we have time to manage him to play the next step with six games in 14 days.”
West Ham ended the weekend in the relegation zone after wins for Everton and Bournemouth on Saturday saw David Moyes’ side drop to 18th in the table.
The Hammers started strongly at their north London rivals but were caught with their back five out of position for both goals and have only one league win in 11 matches.
Moyes said: “They’ve been here before. I think most of them will know how to handle it (being in the relegation zone).
“I have not even thought about it yet but I do know I will be looking to see the players and to see the colour of their eyes in this next week. You can imagine what the colour of mine will be.
“We didn’t focus enough at the start of the second half. Ultimately it come down to a couple of poor actions defensively.”