“It makes a difference to your mood,” smiles Antonio Conte, as he discusses the warm spring weather in north London. The sun is shining and there is a positive feel around Tottenham’s training ground a couple of days on from their midweek win at Brighton.
The result boosted Tottenham’s top-four chances but also continued their bizarre streak of alternating losses and wins over their past eight games.
With just 10 matches left to play – including Sunday’s showdown with fellow top-four chasers West Ham – now is the time when they must find consistency if they’re to make a late dash for a Champions League qualifying spot.
Can they do it? Conte is confident.
“In this moment now I have great confidence,” he tells Sky Sports. “My feeling is good because I’m seeing great improvement.
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“We are working very hard in these five months [that he’s been in charge] but now I’m starting to see great improvement of my team in many aspects: not only on the pitch but also outside, with the mentality.
“I think we’re preparing to have another step and it will be very important to finish the season in the best possible way to continue to give us the confidence and to continue to believe in the work we’re doing.”
It’s not the only occasion during our conversation that Conte references the amount of time he’s been in charge. The Italian has repeatedly talked up the scale of the task he believes he has at Tottenham – but those hours on the training ground since his arrival in November are beginning to pay off and the culture he is trying to bring to the club is perhaps starting to take hold.
Tottenham's strange streak
Last eight results:L, W, L, W, L, W, L, W.
He also feels Spurs are now “more complete” with the arrival of high-impact January signings Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski.
“I see improvement in many aspects,” he says. “Technically, tactically, and now after four months and a half, the players are understanding very well what I want with the ball, without the ball.
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“We are having a bit more time to work on a specific situation on the pitch, we’re having a bit more time to work about the mentality and it happens especially after a defeat.
“For instance, after the defeat against Manchester United, I think we deserved much more. We lost the game but when we lose this type of game you have to learn a lot and try to improve. And on the mentality aspect, to understand there are games where you have to be strong, you have to be a killer. Because in that game we had the possibility to kill – in a sporting way – our opponent. And instead we lost the game.”
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham’s win against Brighton in the Premier League.
Does he have the right characters in his squad to take on that approach?
“The whole team can improve in this aspect,” he replies.
“The players, in the environment, have to understand there’s a difference between a win and a defeat. When you win, the atmosphere around you is happy. You enjoy coming here to your training session, to stay with your team-mates, with your staff, with your coach. When you lose you have to know the atmosphere has to be a bit less happy.
“I think you have to earn a good atmosphere around you and there is only one way: to win.”
That ruthless, winner’s attitude is what has taken Conte to huge success as a player and manager. He’s now setting a high standard for his Spurs players to reach for.
“We know very well to finish fourth is not simple, it’s not easy. But I wanted my players to have this ambition, to have this target because now we have improved a lot.
“You know that football is strange and anything can happen but in this moment I think we’re ready to fight every game and have a good possibility to get three points. Then we’ll see what position we’re going to finish this season.”
Indeed anything can happen in football, as West Ham supporters will agree after their remarkable Europa League last-16 win over Sevilla on Thursday night. Whether that big effort over 120 minutes will help or hinder Spurs’ local rivals on Sunday adds to the intrigue of this fixture. Conte is preparing for the former.
Image: Tottenham beat West Ham at home in the Carabao Cup in December
“My reaction to West Ham’s game was our game will be very difficult,” says Conte. “If West Ham can beat Sevilla, who are second in Spain, it means the level of this league is very, very high.
“But now we are more complete and ready to fight until the end to try to reach an important target.
“It won’t be easy, there are many, many teams with the same ambitions. But if we want to improve, if we want to start to put pressure on ourselves, it’s the right time to have ambition and put ambition on ourselves.”
With the weather set fair, Spurs now need a run in the sun to match their manager’s aims.
Watch: Conte on Arteta’s fixture complaint – ‘I’ve not forgotten north London derby postponment’
Antonio Conte says that he hasn’t forgotten the postponement of the North London Derby after Arsenal requested to call off the match in January. Conte’s comments came after being asked about Arteta’s comments on fixture congestion.
Everton escape up and running? | Spurs to halt happy Hammers? | Winners & losers from Southgate’s England squad
Football fans, rejoice, for another edition of the Essential Football podcast is here! Ron Walker is joined by Sky Sports’ resident Evertonian Ben Grounds and our features writer of an Arsenal persuasion Nick Wright to reflect on another significant week at the top and bottom of the Premier League, and look ahead to the first international break of 2022…
PART 1 | From a dramatic late winner, and a highly contentious red card, to a unique on-field protest and huge ramifications at the bottom of the table, 10-man Everton’s vital victory over Newcastle may have lacked quality, but it more than made up for it in talking points, which Nick, who was at Goodison for the first time, and Ben dissect.
PART 2 | With a few sore heads in east London after West Ham stunning victory over Sevilla in the Europa League, we ask whether opportunity knocks for Tottenham to put an end to their London rivals’ Champions League qualification hopes with victory on Super Sunday, or whether the Hammers can continue riding this wave to further glory.
PART 3 | After Gareth Southgate announced his England squad for the March friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast, Nick questions the omission of Jadon Sancho and launches an impassioned defence of Harry Maguire’s inclusion, Ben explains why the door isn’t closed on Marcus Rashford, before the pair get stuck into the Jordan Pickford vs Aaron Ramsdale debate and examine who will be England No.1 heading into Qatar 2022.
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