EPL

Conte calls on Kane, Son and Lloris to lead Champions League charge

By Sports Desk March 15, 2022

Antonio Conte wants to see Tottenham stars Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Hugo Lloris to step up and carry them to a top-four finish.

Kane was on target on Saturday against Manchester United but Spurs fell to a 3-2 defeat at their fellow Champions League contenders, leaving them six points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, who have played a game fewer.

That was Tottenham's fifth loss in eight Premier League games, as many as they had in their previous 20 in the competition (W12 D3), and Conte's side are now outsiders in the top-four race.

Ahead of a clash at Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday, Conte called on his captain Lloris and attacking duo Kane and Son to lead the charge for a spot in England's top four.

"If you want to have a hope to fight until the end for this type of target, this is the moment I have to ask a lot to the big players," he said.

"To Harry, Hugo and Sonny. These players have to lead the situation to keep us until the end there.

"At the moment, experience is very important. We don't have a lot of experience in this team and it's right to ask the players with experience and big talent to give everything.

"I think they're giving everything but 100 per cent is not enough. We need to ask 120, 130 per cent to have this type of target.

"It will be very important to have people with great talent to lead us until the end and to try to be very close to reach this target."

If Kane answers Conte's calls to deliver at the Amex Stadium, with another strike he will become the Premier League's all-time highest goalscorer on the road in the competition’s history – currently sitting on 94 goals in 138 away games.

Conte also has a 100 per cent top-flight win record against Brighton, winning both games in 2017-18 with Chelsea, but he expects Graham Potter's side to pose a tough test.

"We're talking about a really good team, a really good team honestly," he said of Brighton. "This team likes to play football, they're strong physically. They're dynamic, they're strong at set-pieces.

"They are having a really good season apart from this last period when they lost [four] games in a row. Otherwise, in the table we were very close.

"We have to know that the game will be very difficult. I have watched the game against Liverpool and in the first half Brighton deserved to score goals and get another result against Liverpool.

"It's important in tough games, as a top team, with the experience you manage these games. Then you bring a difficult game on your side. It happened in the game between Brighton and Liverpool because I thought Brighton played a really good game."

Arsenal host Liverpool the following day and Conte believes that his north London rivals are currently favourites for Champions League qualification.

"I think that in this moment, Arsenal seems favourite for fourth place and United, but don't forget there's also West Ham and don't forget Wolves," Conte added. "They're having a fantastic season and they're in the same position.

"In England it's not easy, it's not simple. When you start the season normally you think it's four top clubs that at the end, these four teams go to the Champions League, United, [Manchester] City, Chelsea, Liverpool.

"But last season Liverpool struggled to reach their place in the Champions League. This season it's happening to United. This league is very difficult.

"For sure we have to be in the group of teams who stay, at this moment, behind.

"You have to stay close in the table because there are 11 games to the end of the season and everything can happen. For sure you have to win. If you don't get three points, you are talking about nothing."

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    Carlo Ancelotti's return to Real Madrid last year came as something of a surprise to most.

    While the job he'd done at Everton was generally seen as fine, there was nothing about his time at Goodison Park that suggested the Italian would be back at the top of the game in his next job.

    His appointment at the Santiago Bernabeu could've almost been interpreted as a pointed dig at Clasico rivals Barcelona, where managerial hirings tend to be based around 'philosophy' – few could say that about Ancelotti, a coach arguably regarded more for his motivational skills, tactical flexibility and winning than for sticking to one defined brand of football.

    Regardless of how surprising Ancelotti's return was, he certainly got the job done. Madrid looked certainties for the title virtually all season and pulled off great escape after great escape to eventually win the Champions League, traversing one of the toughest routes to European Cup glory ever seen.

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    From Milan dynasty to short-term guarantee

    Perhaps it shouldn't be a shock, given many of the clubs he's coached have been among the biggest – and that usually means impatient by extension – teams in Europe, but Ancelotti hasn't been in charge of a single club for more than two consecutive full seasons since leaving Milan in May 2009.

    Granted, his spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Everton ended essentially because Madrid came calling, so who's to say how long he'd have been in charge. But clearly there has been a pattern in his working life since Milan.

    Ancelotti will be acutely aware of the expectations upon him at Madrid as he's lived through them before and paid the price for failing to achieve his targets.

    But you have to wonder if anything will be different this time around.

    Ancelotti's dismissal in 2015 came down to the fact Madrid didn't win a (major) trophy in the 2014-15 season. Florentino Perez's decision at the time wasn't universally popular, though no one would've been surprised.

    In the culture created by Perez at the club, a lack of success simply equates to failure, and clearly even the good will attained by winning La Decima – Madrid's 10th European crown – only lasts you so long.

    Perez's statement to the media even seemed to admit there being a degree of not knowing what else to do, as he said: "It was a very difficult decision to make; the demands at this club are the utmost because Madrid always wants to win silverware.

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    Presumably then, Ancelotti will have to again win at least one of LaLiga or the Champions League to stick around for a third season. That stands to reason at Real Madrid, and there's no reason they would be considered incapable on either front, but expecting everything to fall into place like last season is asking for trouble.

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    Who's to say Madrid won't cruise to the title again with Karim Benzema conquering every team in his path? It's entirely possible.

    The key differences this time around are the fact Madrid are heading into the season without a defined back-up striker for Benzema, and Barcelona have strengthened significantly.

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    Granted, Madrid played one game less (19), but if they had contested a 20th match and won it, they'd still have been two points shy of Barca.

    The change inspired by Xavi cannot be overstated and, as much of a mess as the club is off the pitch, there's every reason to expect them to be a force on it this season.

    For Madrid and Ancelotti, again their hopes will be pinned on Benzema. Of course, on the face of it that's not an issue. He's scored at least 21 league goals in each of the past four seasons and never made fewer than 27 top-flight appearances for Los Blancos.

    As a difference-maker and consistent presence, he's their Mr Reliable. But what if he does pick up a major injury: who will Madrid rely on to fill the Benzema void?

    Vinicius Junior enjoyed a remarkable season but wouldn't be suited to the Benzema role, stylistically or as a leader. Again, when Eden Hazard is fit, he is not a central striker, while Mariano Diaz has started just 11 league games in four seasons.

    Madrid's decision to get rid of Luka Jovic was probably the right one given how underwhelming the Serbian had been, and there's no guarantee anyone else brought in as a backup would've been more effective.

    But it does seem an unnecessary risk for a club like Madrid to go into a season without a second striker – or without a second striker who's got a better track record than Diaz. That's the decision Florentino Perez has reportedly made.

    Even if they were granted special dispensation to sign another LaLiga-based striker out of the transfer window, mid-season integration for that player would be tough in every way.

    Yes, yes, yes, it's all hypothetical and no one likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but surely it's better to plan for that possibility than to leave it to chance? Perhaps Ancelotti has a master backup plan hidden up his sleeve in the event of losing Benzema for a while – we'll only find out if it happens.

    But if it does and his answer is to rely on Diaz, there's little hope of Ancelotti reaching that elusive third season.

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