Antonio Conte reckons Tottenham would be cantering towards the Premier League title had Chelsea not over performed this season.
Spurs’ loss at West Ham on Friday night means Chelsea need six points from their final four games to win the title.
Victory over Middlesbrough on Monday and at West Brom on Friday would seal the trophy before Spurs play next, against Manchester United on May 14.
The Blues won the 2014-15 title under Jose Mourinho, imploded and recovered to finish 10th last term and then have been revived under Conte, who could claim a league and FA Cup double in his first season as head coach.
But the former Italy and Juventus boss believes Spurs, runners-up last season to Leicester, are at a more advanced stage of their development; a claim perhaps designed to point to the potential of Chelsea.
“In this season, if Chelsea had not performed in this way, Tottenham would win the title without difficulty,” Conte said.
“Only this great season (from us) is pushing them to fight and, maybe, to win or not to win the title.
“I think that Tottenham have an advantage, if you compare Tottenham to Chelsea.
“Tottenham last season fought to win the title and Chelsea finished 10th. You can see our transfer market and Tottenham’s transfer market.
“This is my first season and I found a lot of situations, a lot of players. (Mauricio) Pochettino has been working there for three years and has changed a lot of players and is working very well.
“For me, Tottenham are a really strong team and it’s normal to see them fighting for the title.”
This was anticipated to be the most competitive of Premier League seasons with Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool all expected to maintain title challenges.
But those did not materialise as only Spurs have rivalled Chelsea until the final weeks of the season.
Conte believes Chelsea are in a season of transition and will grow from strength to strength this summer, although so will their rivals.
“My expectation was a great challenge in this league against City, United, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool,” Conte added.
“Next season for us it will be the same. But we have one year to work and then the possibility to go into the market and choose the right players on my idea of football.
“We are starting to build this season. If we are able to win, it’s a great achievement for us.
“It’s very difficult when you are building to carry on winning.
“But don’t forget we are building to try and create a good foundation to support not only for the next season, but for many years.”
Conte also wishes to challenge in the Champions League.
The lowly finish last term led to an absence of European football and many – most notably United’s ex-Chelsea boss Mourinho – have used that as an explanation for the Blues’ domestic displays.
But Conte was keen to point out that Spurs floundered in Europe, playing six Champions League group games and two Europa League contests before their continental campaign ended.
“Don’t forget that Tottenham dropped (out) at the first group stage, and then dropped (out) in the first (round) in the Europa League,” Conte said.
“If you consider our games and their games, there is a difference of what, eight games?
“But if you consider the squads, the numbers in each squad, you can see the difference: one team prepared to play the Champions League with 25 or 26 players, and another who prepared to play the league, the FA Cup and the League Cup.”
Conte’s memorable celebrations are likely to become more exuberant if Chelsea can beat Boro and then win at The Hawthorns this week.
He said: “I live my work in an intensive way. For this reason, when you are able to reach a result, I think this joy invades your body.
“After a win, there is a moment when you are free. Without pressure. Without anything. Only joy.
“At this moment, I like also to divide this joy with my players, with my staff, and with my fans.
“I think you repay them for their effort.”