Conte: Chelsea game will show if Tottenham have improved

LONDON (AP) — If Antonio Conte wants a reliable indicator of how far his Tottenham team has come since last season, he couldn’t ask for a better test than Sunday’s trip to Chelsea.

Tottenham lost four times in four meetings last season against Conte’s former club, so a victory at Stamford Bridge would send a clear message that Spurs have made a big step forward after a full first season under the Italian manager.

It is the first meeting of the season between two of the ‘Big Six’ sides, with both hoping to show they are ready to join champions Manchester City and Liverpool in what has been a two-horse race for the title in recent years.

“This game will be important to make the right assessment of our improvement,” Conte said on Friday. “I think this game will be very important for us, whether we win, lose or draw, then we have to be good at making the right assessment. … Last season we played three games (against Chelsea) after only two months since my arrival. Now we have seven months plus a month of pre-season. We have put in the work and as a team we are better.”

Tottenham certainly looked good in their opener against Southampton when they came from within a goal to win 4-1. And that was without any of his six off-season signings starting the game.

Brazilian striker Richarlison – who has joined Everton – is available after serving a one-game ban, although he may struggle to fit into Conte’s starting line-up. Dejan Kulusevski had a goal and an assist against Southampton. The Swedish international will therefore likely remain in Tottenham’s attacking trio, alongside Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

Conte led Chelsea to the 2017 Premier League title and managed to steer Tottenham to a fourth place finish last season – one place behind Chelsea – after taking over the north London club in November when the side were ninth in the table.

And according to Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel, those four wins over Tottenham last season – including the League Cup semi-finals – mean little when it comes to assessing any possible gap. between the teams.

“Every team (Conte) trains for everything, regardless of team and club,” Tuchel said. “They are one of the best teams, maybe in the world, on the counter-attack. We did a fantastic job closing it (last season). The players were incredibly disciplined and aware. … If they start, you’re in big trouble, so we have to be smart and stop the counterattacks before they start.

One factor that could slow down the game is heat.

Temperatures could reach 35 degrees C (95 F) in London on Sunday, and Tuchel acknowledged this could affect his tactics and player selection.

“I’m not at the stage (where) the weather forecast influences my starting XI, but we accept that this type of heat has a physical effect on the players. In a stadium it can be even worse, so it will be quite difficult,” Tuchel said. “It’s also a question of how much you want it, because it will seem very difficult for you. It’s a question of who has the ability to play through the pain.

Conte, who was born in southern Italy, played down the effects of the heat.

“In Italy we have 40 or 42 degrees, especially where I was born in Lecce, sometimes we touch 45 and we are used to this temperature,” Conte said. “But I understand that for London it’s unusual.”

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