Spurs are big­gest test for run­away lead­ers – Conte

The Star Early Edition - - SOCCER -

CHELSEA will face their big­gest test of the sea­son against Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur today, man­ager An­to­nio Conte said as his team chase Pre­mier League his­tory.

Chelsea, who fin­ished 10th in the league last sea­son, are five points clear at the top and will ar­rive at White Hart Lane seek­ing to bet­ter Ar­se­nal’s record of 13 con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries in a sea­son.

“It’s an­other chal­lenge, an­other type of foot­ball to face (from Stoke) be­cause Tot­ten­ham like to play from the back. They like to put a lot of pres­sure on when you are in pos­ses­sion,” Conte said. “We have to pre­pare very well be­cause this game for sure will be very, very tough for us, but also for them. For sure (this match) is the big­gest test. I think for us now ev­ery game is the big­gest test.”

Chelsea showed great re­silience in their 4-2 win over Stoke City but Conte ex­pected a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge from their next op­po­nents. Spurs, who are un­beaten at White Hart Lane in their nine league games this sea­son, are fifth on the ta­ble and trail lead­ers Chelsea by 10 points.

“Tot­ten­ham is a good team. Last sea­son they could have won the ti­tle and this sea­son they have a stronger team. For sure we will see a good game,” the Ital­ian added.

The match will no doubt be tough with Tot­ten­ham de­fender Jan Ver­tonghen say­ing man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino has a plan to halt Chelsea’s win­ning run.

Po­chet­tino is set to be­come the first man­ager to have a sec­ond crack at the Blues’ win­ning run.

“The gaffer spends a lot of time analysing them. He pre­pares for the game and the way we should play and in what shape,” Ver­tonghen said. “We see some videos and all these tactical things – but that’s our se­cret. I think the gaffer has a plan.”

Ver­tonghen be­lieves the im­proved depth in squad has al­lowed the man­ager to name com­pet­i­tive start­ing line-ups even when key play­ers like Harry Kane and Toby Alder­weireld were side­lined with in­juries ear­lier this sea­son.

“With the new sign­ings that came in I think we have a very strong squad. It’s the strong­est since I’ve been here,” he said. “We can play dif­fer­ent sys­tems. Harry Kane has been out. Toby (Alder­weireld) has been out, it’s a lot of im­por­tant play­ers we’ve missed. But the guys that have played for them have done bril­liantly.”

Mean­while, Chelsea striker Diego Costa has cred­ited Conte for the side’s record-equalling run. “The man­ager has come, he’s ap­plied his ideas, and things are go­ing well,” the 28-year-old striker said.

“The truth is the man­ager is good with the play­ers, ev­ery time mak­ing more jokes with the play­ers.

“That’s good for us, to have a man­ager who is not just a boss, but like a per­son we can talk with, some­one whose sup­port we can count on in dif­fi­cult mo­ments.”

Costa, who is the league’s top scorer with 14 goals this sea­son, said he was close to leav­ing the Lon­don club for Atletico Madrid be­fore the start of the sea­son.

“I had the pos­si­bil­ity to go to Atletico be­cause of a few things – the fam­ily, the life I have there – but not be­cause of Chelsea,” he said. “Here there’s a lot of love with the sup­port­ers, with the peo­ple, so I’m here very happy, I’m very con­tent. There was one thing I wanted to change for fam­ily rea­sons but, well, it wasn’t to be and I con­tinue (to be) happy here.”

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