Antonio Conte urged Tottenham to enjoy the pressure of the Premier League’s top-four race as he claimed his side did not expect to be in contention back in November.
Nuno Espirito Santo lasted just four months in charge of Spurs before his dismissal on November 1, with the north London club eighth in the Premier League, 10 points behind leaders Chelsea.
Conte, who departed Inter after guiding the Nerazzurri to the Scudetto last season, replaced the Portuguese coach and became the first Spurs manager to go unbeaten in his first eight league games.
However, Spurs’ form nosedived in February, with Conte losing four of five top-flight games for just the third time in his managerial career.
That led to questions over Tottenham’s credentials for Champions League qualification, but slip-ups by Arsenal in April allowed Spurs to temporarily occupy fourth place, even if they could not fully capitalise.
Spurs lost against Brighton and Hove Albion after Arsenal were defeated by Southampton, before being held by Brentford as they dropped further ground in the top-four race.
Across those two games, Tottenham failed to register a single shot on target but responded with a 3-1 win over Leicester City in their most recent game, keeping them two points behind Arsenal with four games to play.
Conte acknowledged his side must deal with the pressure as they head towards the crunch period of the season, with a meeting against Mikel Arteta’s side coming in the penultimate week of the campaign.
Building up to #LIVTOT
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) May 5, 2022
“It can happen in one or two games in a row, you can struggle,” the Italian told reporters. “It can happen for many reasons. Maybe sometimes the pressure starts to become strong and you need to be used to this sort of pressure.
“Before these two games against Brighton and Brentford, we were behind the others but when we reached fourth place and we tried to defend this position, we have these strange performances.
“But I think that this team and group of players are improving every aspect and also at dealing with the pressure.
“I think that we have to enjoy this time and this race. I repeat it was very hard to predict at the start of the season and November that Tottenham could compete for the Champions League.
“We have to enjoy with the right pressure and try to have a game for our fans and the people that watch the game.”
Conte’s side next visit Liverpool on Saturday at Anfield, where the Reds have lost just one of their last 27 Premier League games against Spurs.
However, Tottenham are the top scorers across their last 16 top-flight games, albeit they have either scored multiple goals (in 11 matches) or failed to find the net (five matches) in that period.
“I think that since November until now, you can see the stats, they’ve improved a lot since November,” Conte added. “The goals we scored, the goals we conceded, the chances we created.
“It happened in the last two games against Brighton and Brentford that we weren’t able to score. But I think in every game we create a lot of chances and score a lot of goals and the fans see us play football.
“I think the game against Liverpool will be interesting. We play a game face to face against a team that likes to be offensive, and we like to be offensive.”
Asked whether Spurs fare better against bigger teams due to the space for Harry Kane and Son Heung-min to counter, Conte responded: “No. I can tell you that we played Chelsea four times this season and we lost four times.
“This comparison is not right. We lost four times to Chelsea and they are on the level of Man United, Man City and Liverpool. I think this is not the reason.
“For sure, when you play against [bigger] teams the pressure is very high but at the same time you enjoy this type of game because you play against a really strong team.
“And in these types of games you can also make an evaluation about your level and progress you made in these months.
“I think in this aspect it will be important not only to get points but to understand our level and the level we have reached, in these types of games and against these types of monsters.”
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