Tottenham boss Antonio Conte says he is “not scared” about the challenge of competing for Champions League qualification after earning his first Premier League win in charge.
The Italian saw his new side put an abject first-half performance behind them to beat Leeds 2-1 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, closing the gap to the top four to just four points.
Spurs were booed off at half-time after Dan James had given the Yorkshire team a 1-0 lead, but they responded after the break and won it through goals from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Sergio Reguilon.
The manner of the first-half display showed what a task Conte has on to get Spurs challenging, but the former Chelsea boss says his side have to get into a position to strike if one of their rivals make a mistake.
“We want to fight, we want to improve the position in the table,” he said. “I think – and I must be honest – in England the league is very, very difficult. Every game is tough. We can lose points with every team.
“At this moment, there are four teams that for many reasons, because they are working with the same coach, they invested a lot of money, at this moment there are four teams and there is a gap. I’m not scared about this.
“I trust in my players, I trust in my squad. We want to fight, we want to fight to stay close and fight for Champions League.
“Then if there’s one team that slips up this season or makes mistakes, we must be there to try to do our best.
“I repeat: I don’t want to tell ‘OK if we finish in this position it’s good’. We need to improve. The club called me to improve the situation for the present but also the future.
“Now I’m happy. I like to work with Tottenham because I know here I can work in the way that I like. I know we can improve a lot and be competitive in every competition. Tottenham has to fight and be competitive in every competition this season.”
Conte visibly allowed people to see what the win meant to him at the end as he passionately hugged every member of his squad, having already whipped the home crowd up into a frenzy as they tried to close the game out.
He hopes this can be a starting point for his side in their quest to topple the top four and wants his passion to rub off on other people around the club.
“To play against Leeds and Marcelo Bielsa is not easy. We must be satisfied. This is a point to start for the rest of the season,” he added.
“I’m sure that we continue to work in the way we’re working on the tactical, physical and mentality aspects we can have good improvement for the rest of the season.
I trust in my players, I trust in my squad. We want to fight, we want to fight to stay close and fight for Champions League
“We know very well, this season we have to fight a lot but we want to make our fans proud. After the first half, our supporters was disappointed but it was the same for me and my players.
“To have this reaction, means you have heart and passion and now we have to put this in every moment and to improve.
“I have a lot of passion and I want to transfer my passion to all this environment. How you can be good tactically and have quality and organisation. But passion and heart, you have or don’t have.”
There was a sense of what might have been for Leeds, who could have easily gone 2-0 up before faltering in the final 30 minutes.
Marcelo Bielsa was without key men Raphinha and Rodrigo, but he refused to blame their absence for the loss.
“We can’t ignore the importance of those two players, we tried to dominate the opponent with the players we had,” Bielsa said.
“So to justify the performance with the players we had absent, given that we managed to play 60 minutes with us being better, weakens the argument that the absences were the reason for the result.
“The final 30 minutes of the game was difficult for us, the game presented a difficulty that I saw clearly.
“And in the end we didn’t solve the problems and my task is to see the problem and solve it and I didn’t manage to do that.
“To have used so many variants isn’t good, because there weren’t enough minutes for the players to get used to the changes.”
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