London (AFP) – Chelsea manager Antonio Conte took a swipe at Tottenham ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final saying it is high time that the north London club ended decades of underachievement.
Conte’s Premier League leaders are just four points ahead of second-placed Tottenham in a tense title race, but Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has claimed his team will be underdogs at Wembley this weekend.
Seeing Pochettino’s comments as mind games meant to pile pressure on Chelsea’s players, Conte was quick to turn the spotlight back on Tottenham. It is 56 years since Tottenham were last crowned English champions and their last FA Cup triumph came in 1991.
But led by England internationals Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Tottenham finally look capable of winning major honours and Conte says Pochettino’s men need to end their club’s nine-year trophy drought (Spurs won the League Cup in 2008).
“There is a moment you have to finish considering yourself an underdog. I think this is the right moment,” Conte told reporters on Friday.
“Tottenham now is a really great power in English football.
“This is the third year for them under Pochettino and I think it’s the right moment to finish talking about being considered an underdog and to find his excuse.”
A Chelsea victory on Saturday would boost morale among Conte’s squad as they chase the title.
But the Italian downplayed the impact of the result on the Premier League run-in, which resumes for Chelsea against Southampton next Tuesday.
“I don’t think if one team wins or loses it can affect the other competition,” he added.
Conte also revealed Gary Cahill is set to miss the semi-final after being taken to hospital with gastroenteritis.
Cahill was admitted to hospital on Tuesday after training and the England centre-back had tests and treatment before being released on Thursday.
Conte fears it is too soon for Cahill to return to action.
“He arrived at the training ground with a bit of fever,” he said.
“Our doctor preferred to bring him to the hospital and to check his condition.
“Not a serious problem, but now Gary is getting better and is improving a lot.
“If you ask me for tomorrow, my answer is it is very difficult. This period is not a lucky period for us.”