Chelsea have had to be great to get the better of Spurs, says Antonio Conte
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.”
Steve Agnew is hoping to put the brakes on Conte’s surge towards a first Premier League title to keep Middlesbrough’s survival hopes alive.
Boro would slip ever closer to relegation if they failed to win at Stamford Bridge on Monday evening.
Agnew, who is just eight games into his reign after being asked to replace Aitor Karanka at the Riverside Stadium helm in March, said: “He’s a winner, isn’t he, and I think that rubs off on his team’s performances.
“Let’s just hope that we can be the team that comes out on top on Monday night.
“When you analyse the teams as a coach, you can then look at the degree of work that’s gone in and I can only praise Conte because when I analyse Chelsea, I can see as a coach how much work has gone in to the team both defensively and offensively.
“Monday will be an unbelievable night for Chelsea at the top and ourselves fighting to stay in the league.
“They’ve been excellent. They play with a back three and lots of attacking players. One thing they have is top quality players and an unbelievable work ethic within that.
“You can see when you analyse Chelsea not only how good they are going forward, but how hard they are to break down.”
Boro, who will start the game seven points adrift of safety, will have to match that their hosts in every department if they are to stand a chance of extending their stay back in the top flight beyond a single season, but their head coach is confident Conte’s men will not have things all their own way.
He said: “We’ve had to win matches for a number of weeks, so the players are used to that pressure. They’ve coped well in recent weeks and we’re all ready.”