Antonio Conte suggested Tottenham should be proud they are even in contention for a top-four finish heading into the final game of the season after beating Burnley 1-0 on Sunday.
Harry Kane’s first-half penalty ultimately proved decisive as Spurs went fourth at least until Monday, when Arsenal go to Newcastle United.
It was by no means a vintage performance from Spurs, who came under pressure from the visitors in the second half, but the victory at least means they head into the final day of the season with a chance of clinching the last Champions League spot.
When Conte replaced Nuno Espirito Santo as coach in November, Spurs were five points behind the top four – while not necessarily an alarming gap in itself, Tottenham appeared to be in freefall at the time after losing five of their previous seven league games.
Spurs have only lost six top-flight matches since then, with Conte credited with inspiring a significant improvement across the pitch.
And given the position and form they were in back in November, Conte felt he had to commend his Spurs players for hauling themselves back into contention.
“I think first of all we had to do our task and to win and get three points and put some pressure on Arsenal,” he told reporters.
“We know very well it is not easy to play against Newcastle and especially when they arrive with the new manager and in a good spell and not an easy game, but it will be the same for us in Norwich [in the final game of the season], and the last game against Everton for Arsenal.
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“For sure I will watch the game because I love football and I want to watch and I want also to suffer.
“But I think it is a big achievement for the last game to have the possibility to take a place into the Champions League, because I don’t forget our path since November and we will see what happens.
“I also think Arsenal did a really good job this season because they didn’t play in Europe and now they have a chance to play in the Champions League.”
While Sunday’s performance may not have been as impressive as Thursday’s north London derby win over Arsenal, the visit of Burnley took place against a backdrop of squad uncertainty.
Four players had been affected by a stomach virus ahead of the match, yet each one was either able to start or take a place on the bench, which – according to Conte – proved their commitment to the fight.
“It wasn’t easy because [Saturday] morning the doctor sent me a message that a few players they felt not well and with a stomach problem, vomiting and also fever,” he said. “For this reason, [Dejan] Kulusevski didn’t have a training session, also [Pierluigi] Gollini, also Hugo [Lloris].
“He was not in a perfect condition today, also Winksy [Harry Winks]. Despite this we face the game in the right way and I am so happy because I have seen a team that has improved in many aspects. Now this team is ready to fight in every game.”
Burnley felt aggrieved by the handball decision that allowed Kane to convert from 12 yards, with the VAR spotting the ball brush Ashley Barnes’ arm in the box.
Conte had no time for their complaints, however.
“I think it was 200 per cent a penalty, not 100 per cent. It was so clear. It was very difficult to understand the complaints – if your arm is in this way and you take the ball, I think it is very, very clear, honestly.”
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