Conte: Tottenham's Champions League qualification is like a trophy

By Sports Desk May 22, 2022

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte says the club's qualification for the Champions League is like winning a trophy. 

Spurs claimed a fourth-placed finish in this season's Premier League after a resounding 5-0 win over bottom club Norwich City on Sunday.

The win was secured through Harry Kane's header and braces from Dejan Kulusevski and Son Heung-min.

Son's double saw him claim the Premier League Golden Boot alongside Liverpool's Mohamed Salah after the pair finished with 23 goals each.  

Conte has overseen an impressive turnaround since he took over from Nuno Espirito Santo in November.

Spurs were eighth in the table then, yet a fine second half of the campaign saw them finish with 71 points – a tally that have only bettered in three previous Premier League seasons (86 in 2016-17, 77 in 2017-18 and 72 in 2012-13).

"I didn't win a trophy in this season like in the past but if I am honest to get a place in the Champions League given the difficulty with the situation in November, I have to consider it a really big achievement," he told a media conference.

"After two years Tottenham is able to play again in the Champions League. For me this is a trophy and I'm very happy.

"To become very good and to compete for something important you need to improve in many aspects. I know only one word and that's work, work, work.

"Everybody has to do the right path in this process. For sure we need to improve a lot. Next season the league will be very difficult for all of the teams."

Conte, who signed a contract until the end of the 2022-23 campaign, said he will need a few days to gather his thoughts before ensuring his ambitions are in line with those of the club's hierarchy.

"I am under contract until next summer," he added. "I signed a contract for one year and seven months. I have enjoyed a lot my time in Tottenham.

"It was a big challenge in a modern club, with a fantastic stadium and training ground and I knew the situation I would find.

"On the other hand you know I am a person who has ambition and I like to fight for something important, to lift trophies. I always said to you that at the end of the season I'd speak to the club and find the best solution.

"Now I think for me, the club and my players I think it's good to have three, four or five days of rest and then the mind will be clear and then you can consider the whole season and be calm before you speak.

"Now there are lots of emotions for me in my mind."

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    City’s holy grail

    Winning the Champions League has been City’s top objective since their takeover by Sheikh Mansour in 2008 and, after a number of near-misses, it now feels tantalisingly within reach. Beating Inter Milan would complete a mission for the club’s hierarchy, as it would for Pep Guardiola, the man they hired to deliver it. Despite City’s near-dominance of the domestic scene in recent years, and the regularity with which they have reached the Champions League’s latter stages, Guardiola has admitted the club need to win it to truly underline their greatness. On a personal level too, Guardiola has been the greatest coach of his generation but it has now been 12 years since the second of his two triumphs with a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona and it is an itch he needs to scratch.

    Treble bid

    Victory would not only fulfil a long-held ambition for City, but complete a glorious treble, earning them a place in the history books alongside arch-rivals Manchester United as only the second side to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in the same season. United achieved the feat in 1999, at a time when City were fighting for promotion from the third tier. How their fans are enjoying the change in circumstances 24 years on.

    Tactics and form

    City will head into this game against the side that finished third in Serie A as overwhelming favourites. After an inconsistent spell either side of the World Cup, they hit form in the spring to reel in Arsenal at the top of the Premier League and power into two major finals. Their level of performance has arguably been better than anything they have produced before under Guardiola, with some particularly outstanding displays in key games against the Gunners, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Guardiola has often been accused of overthinking and getting things wrong tactically in the key matches, but there seems little reason to deviate now from what has worked well this season.

    No injury worries

    City would appear to have a clean bill of health. There were concerns when Kyle Walker did not appear at an open training session on Tuesday, having been substituted late in the FA Cup final on Saturday, but the player allayed any worries, saying he would not miss the Champions League final “for anything”. Guardiola is therefore unlikely to stray much from the side which started against Arsenal and both legs against Madrid, which was: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Dias, Akanji, Rodri, Gundogan, Grealish, Silva, De Bruyne, Haaland.

    Inter’s plan

    Inter will be determined not to make up the numbers but manager Simone Inzaghi probably recognises City are likely to dominate possession, putting his side’s notably tough defence to the test. The Italians will hope to soak up the pressure and catch City on the counter, looking to the likes of Lautaro Martinez, Edin Dzeko and Romelu Lukaku to take any chances that come their way.

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    Dogged defence

    Inter’s progression to this weekend’s showcase at the Ataturk Stadium owes a lot to a stingy defence. Simone Inzaghi’s combative team emerged from a group containing Bayern Munich and Barcelona. They have also kept a tournament-high eight clean sheets in their 12 matches, including five from six in the knockout stages, with goalkeeper Andre Onana a star performer.

    Lautaro Martinez

    Argentinian World Cup winner Martinez has once again been a potent threat up front for Inter this season. The 25-year-old, who is supported by the experienced pair of former City striker Edin Dzeko and Romelu Lukaku, has been prolific over the past four years. Ahead of the semi-final, he urged his club-mates to harness the unity which led to his country triumphing in Qatar and that could again serve them well.

    Underdog status

    Inzaghi revealed his remit was to reach the last 16 of the Champions League when he was appointed in the summer of 2021. He satisfied that target last term before exceeding expectations this time around. He knows City will be overwhelming favourites and under greater pressure to deliver, and he has shown he can use such situations to his advantage.



    Despite their impressive run in Europe, Inter endured a mixed domestic campaign and the Serie A champions of 2021 were unable to keep pace with runaway winners Napoli. Their final position of third place owed a lot to a late-season charge as well as pressure being eased by Juventus’ 10-point penalty. Inzaghi’s men lost a large percentage of their games – 12 of 38 – but benefitted from keeping draws – just three – to a minimum.

    Unfamiliar territory

    As three-time winners, most recently in 2010, Inter have historical pedigree in Europe but their recent big-game experience on this stage is limited. Since Jose Mourinho carried them to glory 13 years ago, they have progressed beyond the group stage just four times. That contrasts starkly with City’s record. The English club have reached the knockout stages in each of the past 10 seasons and progressed to at least the semi-finals in the last three. They were also finalists in 2021.

    Lack of attacking width?

    Inzaghi has developed a well-balanced side operating in a 3-5-2 system, bucking modern trends by playing with two strikers. The formation allows the 47-year-old to make the most of his four forwards – Martinez, Lukaku, Joaquin Correa and Dzeko. Yet the reliance on wing-backs alone to provide width in attacking areas can lead to play becoming concentrated in the centre of the pitch and makes it difficult to break down opponents.

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    Group stage (Manchester City 14pts, Borussia Dortmund 9, Sevilla 5, Copenhagen 3)

    City dominated Group G to ease into the knockout stages for a 10th consecutive season with two matches to spare. The game that saw them clinch their spot was actually a forgettable goalless draw in Copenhagen in which Sergio Gomez was sent off, but the job had been largely done with victories in their first three games. They opened with a 4-0 victory over Sevilla, came from behind to beat Dortmund 2-1 with Erling Haaland grabbing the late winner against his former club and thrashed the Danes first time round 5-0. They were then held 0-0 in Dortmund but finished off by beating Sevilla 3-1 at home.

    Last 16: RB Leipzig (won 8-1 on aggregate)

    Pep Guardiola’s side failed to make their dominance count as they were held to a 1-1 draw by the Germans at the Red Bull Arena but any doubts after that game were swiftly put aside in the second leg. City romped to a 7-0 win in the return with the prolific Haaland helping himself to five goals. Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan also got on the scoresheet. Riyad Mahrez scored City’s goal in the first leg before Josko Gvardiol hit back.

    Quarter-finals: Bayern Munich (won 4-1 on aggregate)

    Haaland made one of many entries into the record books as City all but wrapped up their place in the last four with an impressive 3-0 win over German giants Bayern in the first leg at the Etihad Stadium. Haaland netted his 45th goal of the campaign – a record for a Premier League player across all competitions – after an earlier Rodri stunner and Bernardo Silva effort. The Norwegian missed a penalty in the return at the Allianz Arena but bounced back to make it 4-0 on aggregate before Bayern finally registered with a late Joshua Kimmich spot-kick.

    Semi-finals: Real Madrid (won 5-1 on aggregate)

    City produced arguably their greatest performance under Guardiola as they ruthlessly dethroned holders and 14-time champions Madrid to avenge their loss at the same stage last year. They dominated the first leg at the Bernabeu Stadium in terms of possession but were caught by a counter-attack and had to settle for a 1-1 draw as superb strikes from Vinicius Junior and De Bruyne cancelled each other out. They moved up a gear in the second leg and completely overran Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Silva struck twice and Manuel Akanji and Julian Alvarez also scored in a clinical and resounding display.

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