Dejan Kulusevski believes Antonio Conte's coaching style has been critical in his personal improvement at Tottenham after stagnating with Massimiliano Allegri's Juventus.

Kulusevski rose to prominence during the 2019-20 season when on loan at Parma from Atalanta, with his form in the first half of that campaign persuading Juve to spend €35million on him.

Although he played 55 Serie A games for the Bianconeri after linking up with them ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, Kulusevski struggled to find the same prominence and consistency he enjoyed at Parma.

Spurs struck a deal in January to take the Sweden international on loan for 18 months, and the agreement will become permanent for £29.2m (€32.6m) if certain sporting criteria are met.

Kulusevski quickly made an impression – from the date of his signing until the end of the season, no player registered more assists than his eight in the Premier League, while Kevin De Bruyne (17), Son Heung-min (20) and Harry Kane (21) were the only three individuals to tally more goal involvements than the Swede's 13 over the same period.

Similarly, his three assists this season is third to only De Bruyne (six) and Bukayo Saka (four) – he is finding his feet, and he does not think he could have found such comfort had he stayed at Juventus.

"In football sometimes things simply go wrong. I have not changed anything about myself in recent months: mentally I went always to go on the pitch and gave my best.

"At Juve, however, it didn't work beyond what I tried to do. I didn't feel great for so many different reasons and when you realise that things are not right, then it's difficult to reverse course by staying in the same environment.

"So, the choice to leave Italy was the best I could have made in that situation.

"In England I am great, everything is better than in Turin, both on and off the pitch. As I said, now I really always want to play football."

Kulusevski has no doubt what the key difference is: Conte.

While he did not want to disparage Allegri, Kulusevski feels he has reacted positively to Conte's demands, which have in turn got the best out of him.

Asked if there was a big difference between Allegri and Conte, the winger said: "Honestly, yes.

"I don't want to say that one is better than the other, because I have great respect for both Allegri and Conte and both have won a lot in their careers, but the job and the ideas of ​​football are completely different.

"At Tottenham, you struggle a lot more in the gym and you can see the results. I can say that from Juve to Spurs, the world changed for me.

"I have never met in my life, even outside of football, a motivated person like Antonio Conte. When he speaks to you, he enters your heart by force.

"At Tottenham my body changed – mainly thanks to the exercises in the gym – in no time. We work a lot every day and better than I did in Italy.

"I love how we train in London and for sure the credit goes to our coach: I'm very happy to play for him."

Marcus Rashford and Erik ten Hag have been nominated for the Premier League's Player and Manager of the Month awards respectively for September. 

Manchester United's upturn in form continued thanks to two wins from two this month ahead of the international break.

Rashford was directly involved in a league-high four goals in September, assisting Jadon Sancho in the 1-0 win over Leicester City before scoring twice and setting up another in the 3-1 win over Arsenal. 

The 24-year-old faces competition from Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who assisted three goals and created 10 chances – both league-high tallies – in his side's two fixtures.

Belgium international De Bruyne has now been involved in 150 goals across 217 Premier League appearances, scoring 58 and assisting 92.

Phillip Billing, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Jacob Ramsey, of Bournemouth, Tottenham and Aston Villa respectively, are also in the running for the award, as is Alex Iwobi after impressing in a deeper central-midfield role for Everton.

In the Manager of the Month category, Ten Hag is up against Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte and Bournemouth interim manager Gary O'Neil.

O'Neill steadied the ship by helping Bournemouth go unbeaten in their three games this month, collecting five points in the process on the back of last month's 9-0 loss to Liverpool that led to the departure of Scott Parker.

Like Ten Hag's United, Tottenham took a maximum six points in September to match their best ever start to a Premier League season.

The winners of the awards will be announced next week. 

Arguably the most in-demand teenager in world football, Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham reportedly has Real Madrid as his preferred destination.

Bellingham, who only turned 19 in June, has already racked up 68 Bundesliga appearances and 18 Champions League games since arriving from Birmingham City ahead of the 2020-21 season. He has scored in both of his Champions League games this campaign, including one against Manchester City.

While he has already been awarded 15 senior international caps for England, and is preparing for his first World Cup, Spain's El Chiringuito TV has made the shocking claim that Bellingham will shun the Premier League altogether and head to Madrid.

 

TOP STORY – SPANISH MEDIA BELIEVES BELLINGHAM HAS CHOSEN REAL MADRID

It has been strongly suggested this will be Bellingham's last season with Dortmund, with Liverpool being consistently linked through this past transfer window, and even querying to see if he would be available in January.

His status as one of England's top teenagers has guaranteed the interest of all of the Premier League's top sides, although a report from The Athletic UK claims Dortmund will hold firm at an asking price of €150million, leaving few with the capabilities to get a deal done.

One team guaranteed to have the required spending power are Spanish giants Madrid, and while his popularity in England is already locked in due to his international status, it might be a case of believing his best chance of becoming a truly transcendent star in the game is to do it at one of the traditional powerhouse clubs.

With that being said, Liverpool have been proactive in their chase of Bellingham, and both they and Manchester City boast the necessary level of worldwide fame, recent success and deep pockets to convince any budding superstar that they are the right choice.

 

ROUND-UP

– Sport is reporting Barcelona's Sergio Busquets will head to MLS and join Inter Miami at the end of the season.

– According to Calciomercato, Milan will make a move for Salzburg striker Noah Okafor in January as their forward depth has been impacted through injuries.

– Sports Today claims Juventus have been in contact with Tottenham's Antonio Conte as they weigh up potentially parting ways with Massimiliano Allegri, with Conte said to be open to the idea after this season.

Arsenal are being linked with 24-year-old Juventus midfielder Manuel Locatelli, who has reportedly not impressed Allegri since arriving from Sassuolo, according to Calciomercato.

– L'Equipe is reporting that Ousmane Dembele – who was signed for a base fee of €105m in 2017 – has a €50m release clause in his new contract that will be active at the end of the season, with Dembele set to receive half of that €50m if a deal gets done to compensate him for accepting no signing bonus.

Tottenham centre-back Eric Dier heaped praise on coach Antonio Conte for helping to resurrect his international career ahead of the World Cup.

Dier, 28, has 45 senior caps for England since debuting in 2015, but it has been almost two years since he last represented his country in a UEFA Nations League win against Iceland in November 2020.

However, after tallying 35 Premier League appearances this past campaign, Dier has become a crucial part of Conte's three centre-back lineup, playing every minute of Tottenham's seven unbeaten matches this season (5W, 2D).

Speaking to the media about how he feels he has evolved since his last national call-up, Dier gave plenty of credit to Conte for changing the way he approaches his game.

"I don’t want to sound like a teacher’s pet but [Conte] has done a lot for me," he said. "In every way he has done a lot for me. 

"He has had a great effect on me in every aspect. Tactically, physically, mentally. My approach.

"Not just the manager but all his staff. He is very demanding, but I really enjoy that. Ever since he arrived, I have never learnt so much in this year. I don’t think I have learnt as much before as I have now with him.

"He is the godfather of that system so I feel like with him you’re constantly learning and evolving within that system, constantly adding new things – once we learn one thing we’re onto the next. 

"I think he probably gave me my belief back a little bit as well."

Dier took things a step further and said he does not just feel he has recaptured his previous form, but he has now reached a new level.

"I think it was my most difficult season when I did miss out on the Euros, [but] I don’t think it was as bad a season as it is made out to be," he said. "Nowhere near.

"But now I think I’ve reached my best level in my career, not just this season but last season as well. I think I’m getting better and I think I can get better."

With five matches required to bring up his half-century in an England shirt, Dier said he would be lying if it was not on his mind.

"I’ve seen they’ve got a board up now in the reception of the hotel of all the people who have made 50 and 100," he said. "It’s a dream to be able to reach that.

"It would mean a lot. It’s something that when I wasn’t in the squad it was playing on my mind that I was so close to it. That did annoy me. I would love to be able to get to that kind of milestone.

"I’m very happy… I’m very proud of making it back, I just don’t like dramatising it too much. I play football, you know?"

Eric Dier has thanked Antonio Conte and his Tottenham team-mates for helping him earn a recall to the England squad, which he hopes is "just a starting point".

Spurs defender Dier has been called up by Gareth Southgate for the upcoming Nations League matches with Italy and Germany.

The most recent of his 45 caps came in November 2020, but an upturn in form at club level has Dier in contention for a World Cup spot.

Dier's improved performances have coincided with the appointment of Conte last November, and the 28-year-old is confident he can continue his upward trajectory. 

"I am just looking forward to going and I think as my manager [Conte] said during the week, for me it is my ambition for this just to be a starting point for me," he said. 

"I think I can still do a lot more. Honestly, [a recall] wasn't what I was thinking about. 

"I was just thinking about being as good a player as I can be for Tottenham and everything else that happens is a consequence of that.

"I think that's the only thing I had to focus on and the only thing that was in my control. Everything else that happens, happens.

"I'm just thankful for the way my team-mates, coaching staff and everyone at Tottenham has supported me, pushed me and tried to help me get back to the national team."

Dier started all four of England's matches at Euro 2016 and was used six times at the 2018 World Cup, but he was not part of Southgate's squad for Euro 2020.

He is back involved with the Three Lions after performing at a consistent level across Tottenham's nine games this season, during which he has scored twice.

The most recent of those goals came in Saturday's 6-2 win against Leicester City, with Son Heung-min grabbing the headlines after scoring a 13-minute hat-trick.

And Dier joked Son, who was dropped for the first time this season after failing to score in his first eight outings, should start on the substitutes' bench regularly.

"We told him the manager should drop him more often if he scores a hat-trick every half an hour," Dier said.

"Everyone is delighted for him. Obviously for someone who lives for scoring goals it has been a difficult start to the season.

"I think that's no secret. But he's come back in an emphatic way today – the floodgates have opened."

Antonio Conte has warned his Tottenham forwards they will have to get used to being rotated if the club is to force its way into the elite of world football. 

The Italian opted to replace Son Heung-min with Richarlison from the start in Saturday's Premier League clash with Leicester City after the South Korean had failed to score in his first eight appearances of the season.

That decision paid off handsomely as Son came off the bench to score a sensational hat-trick as Spurs thrashed Brendan Rodgers' rock-bottom side 6-2.

Son became the first Tottenham player to score a Premier League hat-trick as a substitute, while he was just the seventh player to do so overall in the competition.

Conte said he will continue to shuffle his pack as the season progresses, and wants his forwards to be ready to make an impact when they are called upon.

"People do not understand that for the coach to manage this type of situation it is not easy," Conte said. "It's not easy because sometimes you prefer to play with 13 players, but in some moments I have to take important decisions.

"The players know very well that I want to win and every decision is for the best of the team, and also for the best of the player, to protect the players.

"We have just started this path with the club. To have Richarlison up front, with Harry [Kane], Sonny, Deki [Dejan Kulusevski] and also Lucas [Moura], then there is [Bryan] Gil, who is a good prospect and young, it means the situation gives me the possibility to rotate.

"When we start to play after the international break, 12 games in a row, for sure, I will rotate. The only thing I ask my players is that they don't drop the level when we rotate. We always want a strong team because we want to fight for every competition.

"We have just started, but if the players want to play for something important, to lift a trophy, they have to understand this. Otherwise, they continue to play every game, but they don't go to win anything. This is clear. Clear.

"It happened in the past here and I want to try and change it. I want to bring this team to another level. I will try to do my best. But I'm not worried about this. For sure, it's not easy. It's not simple. But I have to get the best decision in every moment.

"If you want to stay in a team with ambition, you have to accept this type of situation. Otherwise, you have to go to a medium team, and then you are sure you will play every game. And then it will be very difficult to lift a trophy in this way."

Tottenham are away to north London rivals Arsenal in the Premier League immediately after the international break, before visiting Eintracht Frankfurt in the Champions League.

Son Heung-min felt he had "disappointed" his Tottenham team-mates before opening this season's account with a dazzling hat-trick against Leicester City.

The South Korea international came off the bench in the second half of Saturday's Premier League game to deliver a freewheeling performance in what became a 6-2 rout of the Foxes.

Having been replaced in the starting line-up by Dejan Kulusevski, Son's performance as substitute was a timely reminder of his talent.

In eight previous games this season, including two in the Champions League, Son had failed to score and managed only one assist.

Speaking after a treble that included two stunning long-range finishes, last season's Golden Boot joint-winner said the feat left him emotional, after several weeks of feeling he had let the club down.

"It was a top performance," Son told Sky Sports. "The way I play, I can do much better than I have. I have been disappointed. I wanted to do my best for the team. I will always try to do that when I play.

"I'm getting emotional [about the support] to be honest. There has been amazing support, and I've always felt like I've disappointed my team-mates and fans with my performances. They have always been supporting me."

Son's feat made him the seventh player in the competition's history to score a hat-trick after coming on as a substitute, and helped push Tottenham joint-top of the table with Manchester City, albeit trailing on goal difference.

With 17 points from seven games and an unbeaten domestic record to boot, Antonio Conte's side have matched their best start to a Premier League season, set in 2016-17 when they finished behind their current boss during his time at Chelsea.

The Italian head coach certainly was happy to see Son turn the page, with Conte saying: "I am really happy for Sonny today, you know what I think of the player.

"I said to him, 'If you're going to score three goals in 30 minutes, maybe we can repeat this experiment', but I was joking.

"I'm lucky, I have a really good group of players, that are really good people. We have to start thinking in a different way if we are going to make the next step."

Son Heung-min was dropped to the bench for Tottenham's Premier League game against Leicester City on Saturday.

The South Korea forward was the joint-top scorer in the English top flight last season with 23 goals – level with Mohamed Salah – but has failed to build on that momentum this term.

Son has not scored in his six league appearances, registering just one assist, while no player has registered more shots without finding the net (17).

Head coach Antonio Conte, who said no player was "undroppable" following Spurs' Champions League defeat by Sporting CP in midweek, opted to name the forward on the bench for the visit of Leicester.

Dejan Kulusevski started, with Ryan Sessegnon, Davinson Sanchez and Clement Lenglet also included. Cristian Romero and Emerson Royal dropped to the bench, with Ben Davies not included in the squad.

Son Heung-min is not "undroppable", admits Tottenham boss Antonio Conte, following a tough start to the season for the forward.

Son was arguably the standout performer under Conte last season, helping to fire Spurs to a top-four finish and Champions League football.

His tally of 23 league goals saw him share the competition's top-scorer award with Liverpool star Mohamed Salah. No player has had more shots without scoring in the Premier League this season than Son (17).

But Son has struggled to maintain those standards this season, failing to score in his six league appearances and providing just one top-flight assist.

With Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski pressing to start ahead of this weekend's clash with lowly Leicester City, Son's place is under question, and Conte hinted the 30-year-old could be taken out.

"There are no players that are undroppable," he stated. "This has to be very clear. There are no players that are undroppable. If I tell this, it's only to try to help my players

"[It's] to try to avoid injuries, to try to have players at the top of their form and to have a good performance. If I am telling this it is only to protect my players and to give them the possibility to be, in every moment, at the top."

One player who has flourished this term is defender Eric Dier, a former England mainstay whose form has seen him end a two-year exodus from the national setup with a recall from Gareth Southgate for the Three Lions' Nations League games against Italy and Germany.

Conte professed his pride in Dier's return to the England fold, adding that it validates the defender's impressive club performances, particularly with the 2022 World Cup looming.

"I'm really pleased because when my players are called up to the national teams, we are really proud," he added. "It means we are working very well, and we are trying to help the players to go with the national teams.

"In this case for Eric it was a really good achievement for him. For the rest I think my staff and I and team-mates are very happy for this call up to the national team."

Antonio Conte did not believe Tottenham deserved to lose to Sporting CP but suggested their late collapse was a reminder of the limited room for error in the Champions League.

Tottenham were below par in their Group D encounter but looked set to settle for a share of the spoils at Estadio Jose Alvalade. 

However, Paulinho's 90th-minute header from a near-post corner and a fine individual goal from Arthur Gomes gave Sporting a win that puts them in control of the group on six points.

Spurs now have plenty of work to do in a pair of games with Eintracht Frankfurt after falling to a result Conte did not view as reflective of their performance.

"I think the game in the first half was in balance between the two teams," Conte told a media conference. 

"Honestly, in the second half, we felt the opportunity to get the three points and win the game. We had the chances to score, but in the end we are talking about a loss.

"For sure, we can do much better in those last few minutes. We conceded a counter-attack with a one-versus-one. It was the player who shot and Hugo [Lloris] made a really good save, maybe the most difficult save of the game.

"After this, the corner we conceded a goal. I always say to my players that the details move the final result. I think that maybe we didn't deserve to win, but at the same time we didn't deserve to lose this game tonight.

"We try to analyse the game very well with the players to understand what were the positive things that we did and what are the negative situations that we can improve for the future.

"For sure, this level is a high level, the Champions League. Against Marseille was another tough game. Tonight was another tough game. We need to know that if we want to have the ambition to go to the next round, we have to fight, we have to fight a lot, especially in this group, because in this group I see a lot of balance between the teams.

"The Champions League level is high. You know that you have to reduce the mistakes because in the end you can pay. Tonight we paid a lot.

"Now we are talking about a loss, a loss against a team that showed they are used to playing this competition. It's a pity, and we have to analyse the game well, and all the players they know very well that this level is an important level.

"It's right to continue to improve this process. Don't forget that last season we lost against Mura in the Conference League, and I think we made an important step forward."

Antonio Conte believes it would be for the best if Tottenham could rotate Son Heung-min rather than have the superstar forward play in every match.

Son has made at least 40 appearances in all competitions in each of his seven full seasons at Spurs, while only in his first campaign in England did he start fewer than 30 matches.

This term, the South Korea attacker has started all seven games for his club, although he is yet to score and has supplied only a single assist.

With Richarlison signed in the close season, following the January arrival of Dejan Kulusevski, Conte appears to now have the requisite depth to leave Son out of his team given this sub-par form.

The Tottenham coach could do so at Sporting CP in the Champions League on Tuesday, although the postponement of the weekend's game against Manchester City – due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II – has given his team more time to recover.

Attempting to fit Son, Richarlison, Kulusevski and Harry Kane into the same XI, Conte said: "The postponed game allows me to make a different decision.

"Against Man City, I would have played with certain players, but now I change things in my mind."

However, pushed on the possibility of Son being left out at some stage, the coach replied: "I think when you try to build something important, with ambition and try to be competitive and win, you have to change old habits – otherwise you stay in balance and you don't want to have ambition.

"For this reason, all the players have to accept that rotation is part of this aspect. We have four players [up front], and it's very difficult right now to drop one.

"I have to take the best decision, sometimes for the players. Sometimes it's better to come in for 20, 30 minutes for them.

"I'm here to change the habit. The habit was that the players were used to playing all the time. Big clubs have a big squad.

"At the moment, we don't have a big squad, but we have just started this process."

Brighton and Hove Albion head coach Graham Potter is among five nominees for the Premier League's Manager of the Month award as his move to Chelsea draws closer.

The 47-year-old is widely reported to have agreed terms to take charge at Stamford Bridge following the departure of Thomas Tuchel on Wednesday.

Having been nominated for August's Manager of the Month gong, Potter's arrival at Chelsea could coincide with him being rewarded for a stellar start to the season with Brighton.

The Seagulls won three of their five games in August, drawing with Newcastle United and losing to Fulham, and finished the month in fourth place behind Tottenham, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Those three sides have also seen their leaders nominated, with Mikel Arteta, Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola shortlisted alongside Fulham's Marco Silva.

Arteta led Arsenal to five wins from five matches in August, while Conte and Guardiola did not taste defeat during the month and Silva led Fulham to two wins and two draws.

The nominations for Manager of the Month were released alongside the shortlist for August's Player of the Month, where City's Erling Haaland is the firm favourite to pick up the award after scoring nine goals in five matches.

Arsenal are the only side to have two nominees up for the award, in captain Martin Odegaard and striker Gabriel Jesus, with the eight-man shortlist dominated by players outside of the established 'top six' in the Premier League.

Brighton's Pascal Gross, Fulham's Aleksander Mitrovic, Newcastle United's Nick Pope, Leeds United's Rodrigo and Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha are the other nominees.

Antonio Conte hailed Richarlison's versatility after the Brazilian opened his Tottenham account with a brace to seal a 2-0 Champions League win over Marseille on Wednesday.

Spurs took full advantage of Chancel Mbemba's red card as Richarlison twice headed past Pau Lopez inside the final 15 minutes, ensuring Conte's men won their opening match in a Champions League campaign for only the second time.

Richarlison became the 39th Brazilian to score on his debut in the competition, the most of any nation, but is the first Brazilian since Oscar in September 2012 to net a brace on his Champions League bow.

The 25-year-old joined from Everton in a £60million deal in July and Conte believes his display was a perfect demonstration of why they signed him.

"First of all, I am happy for Richy," Conte said in a news conference. "He deserved to have a night like this.

"I remember very well when we signed him, he said he cannot wait to listen to the Champions League music and play in competition. 

"This morning I said I remember what he said and you have your opportunity and chance. I think he did his best.

"We signed him to enhance the quality of team and support our three strikers. Last season when you have a team with Son [Heung-min], Harry [Kane] and Deki [Dejan Kulusevski], we tried to sign a player that was able to play in all three positions.

"For this reason, we didn't have any doubts about signing him and we did it quickly because our idea and ambition was very clear.

"He is more of a striker than Deki but at same time he can play in the Son position, Kane position, and Deki position. This is very important for sure, as when you make rotation, you don't drop the quality."

 

Spurs travel to champions Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday and Conte acknowledged he will likely have to shuffle his pack, given the tight turnaround.  

"I have a big decision. Honestly, I am a bit worried as we are playing against City in only two days and it is not easy," he added.

"I think some players need to recover as many have played every game until now. You know very well we have to rotate our team."

Tottenham are gearing up for their first Champions League campaign in three seasons with momentum on their side and expectation levels high.

A large part of that is down to head coach Antonio Conte, who guided Spurs back into Europe's elite club competition in his first half-season in charge of the north London club.

Conte boasts a CV that is the envy of many managers around the world, the Italian having won eight major trophies during his coaching career, including five top-level league titles in two countries.

But Conte's domestic success has not transferred onto the European stage, having exited the Champions League in the group stage more times than he has advanced, despite managing some of the continent's elite clubs.

Ahead of Tottenham's Group D opener against Marseille on Wednesday, in which Conte will become the fourth coach to take charge of more than one English club in the competition, Stats Perform looks at the 53-year-old's underwhelming record.

JUST ONE KNOCKOUT WIN

Tottenham will be the fourth side Conte has taken charge of in the Champions League after Juventus, Chelsea and Inter. He has managed 36 games with those three heavyweight sides but won just 12 for a 33 per cent win rate.

To put that into some context, that compares to a 65 per cent win rate in the Premier League (over a much larger sample of games) and 68 per cent win rate in Serie A.

Breaking down that European record further, Conte won six of his 16 matches as Juve boss in the competition and just three each with Chelsea and Inter across eight and 12 matches respectively.

Those victories with Juve, Inter and Chelsea, if you were wondering, came against Celtic (twice), Qarabag (twice), Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach, Chelsea, Copenhagen, Nordsjaelland, Shakhtar Donetsk and Slavia Prague.

Conte's best run in UEFA's elite club tournament remains his first campaign when taking Juve to the quarter-finals in the 2012-13 season, where his title winners were well beaten by Bayern Munich over two legs.

Remarkably, that season's 5-0 aggregate win over Celtic in the last 16 remains Conte's only knockout-stage success in the Champions League.

That was one of only two occasions in five attempts a Conte side has made it beyond the first round, in fact, the other instance being in the 2017-18 season when Chelsea finished second to Roma in the group and were then eliminated by Barcelona in the last 16.

Conte was unable to guide Juve out of the group stage in 2013-14, failing to finish ahead of Galatasaray for second place behind Real Madrid, and also fell at the first hurdle in successive seasons with Inter.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES

But exactly why has one of the best coaches of his generation struggled so badly when it comes to balancing domestic and European football?

One suggestion is that, like a lot of Italian coaches, Conte prioritises league titles over continental cups, but the Spurs boss laughed that idea off at a news conference on Tuesday and pointed to the success of compatriot Carlo Ancelotti, the winner of more European Cups than any other coach.

"Success in Europe with a trophy is important for every manager," Conte added when probed on his underwhelming Champions League record. "You know very well that it is not simple, not easy to lift a trophy in Europe and especially the Champions League. 

"It is important to be there and you have more probability if you are the coach of a team who expects to win. Two years ago, with Inter, we lost the final of the Europa League against Sevilla. For sure, in my heart, in my mind, in my ambition, there is the will to have success in Europe."

Conte did indeed reach the final of the Europa League with Inter in the 2019-20 season, but even that can be considered a disappointment as a much-fancied Nerazzurri lost to Sevilla in the final and were only in the competition by virtue of their early Champions League elimination.

Another theory, put forward by Conte himself, is that his squads simply have not had the depth to cope with demanding runs across multiple competitions. 

"Some important mistakes have been made at the planning stage; we can't play both the Champions League and Serie A with such a small squad," Conte said two years ago on the back of Inter's second successive group-stage exit.

"I'm tired of saying the same things over and over again. Perhaps the [club directors] could come over here and say something. I hope that this will help them understand a few things."

SIXTH TIME LUCKY WITH SPURS?

Passing the buck to those higher up is very much out of the Conte playbook, a classic ploy usually used to help get his way when the transfer window approaches.

But on the back of a busy few months of transfer activity at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, in which the Italian has been backed heavily, that excuse will surely not cut it with Daniel Levy and Co.

While Tottenham are not realistically expected to challenge for the Champions League trophy this term, failing to advance from a favourable group that contains Marseille, Eintracht Frankfurt and Sporting CP would be yet another blight on Conte's CV.

However, Conte may already be laying the foundations to cover his back should Spurs miss out on a place in the last 16, with the ex-Chelsea boss hitting out at the congested fixture list this side of the World Cup.

"Honestly, to see this schedule about Tottenham is incredible, it's crazy because we played three games in six days against Nottingham Forest, West Ham and Fulham," he added on Tuesday.

"Now we are playing after four days, but we are starting to play again three important games against Marseille in the Champions League, [Manchester] City away and Sporting Lisbon away in six days. I think maybe this is my first time in my career to see a schedule like this.

"I think in this situation we are unlucky, but I think in the future, and also I spoke with the club, we have to pay great attention to speak also to the Premier League. One day more, one day less can change totally your life and you can drop points. This is no good for a team like Tottenham."

These are the same issues the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel have also raised, the difference being each of those have lifted the Champions League trophy aloft during their careers.

Now, as he embarks on his sixth season in the greatest club competition of them all, Conte must put talk of fixture congestion, a lack of squad depth or simply being unlucky with the draw to one side and prove that lessons have been learned from the past.

Antonio Conte has criticised Tottenham's fixture crunch in the run-up to the World Cup, stating it is the first time in his career he has seen such a "crazy" schedule.

The Premier League side get their Champions League campaign under was on Wednesday when they host Marseille, marking their return to the competition after two seasons away.

Coupled with English domestic commitments, they will play 17 games over the next nine and a half weeks, due to the mid-season staging of this year's World Cup in Qatar.

Reflecting on the calendar, Conte has been left stunned by the crush of clashes on his team's schedule, and says he believes organisers can do better to avoid such issues.

"It's crazy," he stated at a pre-match press conference. "We played three games in six days against Nottingham Forest, West Ham and Fulham, and now we play three games against Marseille, [Manchester] City away [and] Sporting Lisbon away in six days.

"I think [this is the] first time in my career [I have] seen a schedule like this. I think we can do much better for the future."

Conte added that Spurs' return to the top competition in European club football was a chance to show further progress on a strong 2021-22 season.

"First of all, we are having a Champions League press conference for what we did last season," he stated. "I think last season we did a fantastic job with the club and with the players.

"We are to enjoy this important competition in Europe. For sure, we want to play to try to do our best.

"We have to play with ambition and with great desire, with great will. I know very well this tournament is really difficult, it is the most difficult in the world.

"But at the same time, it's a great opportunity to show we are going in the right way, that we are making a step forward and we want to try to improve and to give satisfaction to our fans and then to give satisfaction to ourselves."

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