LONDON: Spurs represent a significant hurdle to overcome if Chelsea are to equal Arsenal’s Premier League record of 14 successive wins, said Blues manager Antonio Conte on Tuesday.
The 47-year-old Italian — who took over after he had guided Italy to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals — has steered Chelsea to 13 consecutive victories and a five point lead over Liverpool at the top of the table.
Victory over fifth-placed Spurs on Wednesday would emulate Arsenal’s record set over two seasons — winning the last 13 matches of the 2001/02 season and their first game of the following campaign.
“It is a great achievement for us,” said Conte of their record-equalling 13th successive win in a single season.
“To win 13 games in a row is not easy. We are pleased for this.
“Tomorrow (Wednesday), we know that we have a tough game against Tottenham. It is a good team. For this reason we need to continue our run!”
Conte, who made his name as a manager at Juventus a club he also served with distinction as a player, admitted going on their previous clash earlier in the season Spurs would be tough opposition.
“Against Tottenham (previously when Chelsea came from 1-0 down to win 2-1) was a tough game,” said Conte, who coached Juventus to three Serie A crowns.
“I watched it again. In the first half they played well and put us under a lot of pressure.
“In the second half we played very well but Tottenham showed great form.
“For me, Tottenham are better than last season. They have a good manager who is working very well. It is right to compliment (Mauricio) Pochettino.”
– ‘The league is open’ –
Conte, an industrious midfielder who won 20 caps and was a member of the squads that reached the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 finals, said as far as he was concerned the Spurs match represented the start of the second-half of the season with nothing won yet.
“This type of game gives you motivation,” he said.
“Now I think every team want to stop our run, not just Tottenham.
“If you see the table, we have only five points more than second place from Liverpool and seven points from Manchester City.
“The league is open. This is only the first game of the second part of the season.”
Conte faces the type of selection dilemma every coach wishes for as he mulls over whether to restore Pedro Rodriguez to the starting XI after he served a one match suspension.
“I like to have my players in good form and then to make the best choice for the game,” said Conte.
“It is a good problem. Now, we have Pedro, Willian, (Eden) Hazard and (Diego) Costa in good form and in good shape.
“I have to decide the starting XI but I think you win the game in 90 minutes and it is important to have all my players available and in good form.”
Conte, who said there were discussions going on about perhaps strengthening the squad in the January transfer window, said Costa had flourished since he decided to stay and not seek a transfer last summer.
“When Diego decided to stay, he said he wanted to fight for this club and for his shirt,” said Conte.
“I wasn’t concerned. He is showing great patience in the right way, in every moment of the game.
“We are happy for this. He is completely focused on the game.”