Antonio Conte says it is time for Tottenham to lose their underdog tag
Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte reckons it is time Tottenham shed their underdog tag and rebuked Mauricio Pochettino for appearing to prepare an excuse ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
Spurs are four points behind the Blues at the Premier League summit with six games remaining after Chelsea’s loss at Manchester United last Sunday.
Pochettino on Thursday said his side were underdogs for the Wembley clash. Conte disagrees.
“There is a moment you have to finish considering yourself an underdog. I think this is the right moment,” Conte said.
“Tottenham now is a really great power in English football. This is the third year for them (under Pochettino) and I think it’s the right moment to finish (talking about being) considered (an) underdog and to find his excuse.”
Chelsea are seeking a win over Tottenham which, as well as securing a place in the FA Cup final, would boost morale and confidence for the Premier League run-in.
Conte downplayed the impact of the result on the Premier League run-in, which resumes for Chelsea against Southampton next Tuesday.
“I don’t think if one team wins or loses it can affect the other competition,” he added.
The Blues’ preparation has been disrupted by illness to defender Gary Cahill, who was admitted to hospital this week with gastroenteritis.
The 31-year-old defender spent two days in hospital following his admission after training on Tuesday before his release on Thursday.
“Our doctor preferred to bring him to the hospital and to check his condition,” Conte added.
“Not a serious problem, but now Gary is getting better and is improving a lot.”
Conte appears to be resigned to being without Cahill, his on-field captain for much of this season.
“If you ask me for tomorrow, my answer is it is very difficult,” Conte added.
Cahill has also been a key figure in Chelsea’s defence this season, playing in a three-man defensive unit with Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz.
Kurt Zouma and Nathan Ake are in contention to step in, with Conte suggesting John Terry is more suited to the central position in the back three, where Luiz is first choice.
Pochettino has insisted this season will be a success whetehr they win a trophy or not.
Seven wins on the bounce leave them hot on the tail of Chelsea, but he is wary of putting too much pressure on his side.
“Here is a massive success,” Pochettino said.
“Yes, you can win titles. But with which teams? It is normal to win titles with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, maybe Juventus, Porto in Portugal.
“With a big team, you are already very close to winning. Look at Barcelona with Pep (Guardiola), with Tito Vilanova, with (Frank) Rijkaard, with Luis Enrique. All different managers but with the same group of players and they were successful.
“Success for me is to finish in the top four like last season. It was a big success for Tottenham and means maybe more than winning one title with Barcelona.
Pochettino must decide this weekend whether to play Son Heung-min, who has scored eight goals in six games, from the start or revert to the 3-4-3 formation that proved so effective in their victory against Chelsea in January.
Tottenham will be without Danny Rose, however, as the full-back is still regaining fitness following a knee injury.