Antonio Conte has warned Tottenham Hotspur that the grandiose surroundings of the national stadium may serve to inspire visitors to their temporary home in the season ahead, and praised the champions’ fighting spirit as Chelsea kickstarted their title defence.
The Italian was forced to field a makeshift side against Spurs after suspensions and injury ate into his options, with David Luiz forced into midfield and Andreas Christensen handed a first start in the Premier League. Yet two goals from Marcos Alonso left Tottenham, unbeaten at White Hart Lane last season, with only one win in 10 competitive games in this stadium since they won the League Cup against these opponents nine years ago.
Mauricio Pochettino was quick to dismiss the Wembley effect as a contributing factor to his team’s first home loss in the league since May 2016. Yet Conte suggested the chance to play at Wembley had served to inspire his team. “Honestly, this atmosphere was great and this stadium, Wembley, is fantastic,” he said. “So to feel this atmosphere was amazing, [but] also as an opponent. Our fans tried to push, despite 70,000 Tottenham supporters. But, honestly, I think this kind of atmosphere is great also for the [visiting] opponents.”
Asked about his team’s record at Wembley, Pochettino replied: “It doesn’t affect me. I understand that we need to talk, everyone needs to talk … But I think the Wembley effect is not the reason we lost the game. The team played really well. It’s not fair to blame Wembley. For me, Wembley is one of the best places in the world to play football. And today it was clear: if you love football and watch football, and watch the game again, you will see that Wembley was not the problem.
“Today was not about the tactics. We were much better than Chelsea and we were a little bit unlucky. So I’m not sad or frustrated. I’m ‘happy’ to lose in that way. We played better and created chances to score. But that’s football. We have to accept they were more clinical than us in front of goal.”
Chelsea’s victory helped ease the tension after a difficult summer behind the scenes and the untimely loss to Burnley at Stamford Bridge on the opening weekend, with Conte praising his depleted team’s response in adversity.
“I want to thank every one of my players,” said the Italian, whose selection had been shorn of the suspended Gary Cahill and Cesc Fàbregas, the injured Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, who is absent without leave in Brazil. “They showed me great desire, great spirit, great will, great heart, great will to fight. I saw fighters in a moment that’s not easy for us with the suspensions and the injuries. We suffered during the game, but we were always dangerous in every moment.
“We know very well that a lot of teams improved if you compare with last season. But we have to concentrate on ourselves. It’s not important if we are not favourites in this league. It was the same last season. We know we are trying to improve our team, our squad, and the club is trying to do its best in the transfer market to try and improve the team and the squad. But I repeat, I’m very happy when I see this type of game. I’m not speaking about football, but this spirit, this heart, this desire.
“I must be satisfied because my players gave me everything today. They did the same last season. There will be more great difficulties in this season, but the only way we can get through these difficulties is to work.
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