Antonio Conte has insisted Tottenham’s “project” is still ahead of Chelsea’s, and that Alvaro Morata did not need the January arrival of Olivier Giroud to break out of his prolonged slump in form for the Blues.
Prior to Chelsea facing Tottenham in August, Conte admitted that it could take the Blues up to four years to match the “structure” that Mauricio Pochettino has established with their London rivals, and he reiterated the need to make up ground.
The two clubs will clash on Sunday at Stamford Bridge. Asked before the match if Tottenham’s “project” is ahead of Chelsea’s, Conte replied: “Yes, I think they started before us. I am talking about my period, my era. For sure, now, they are ahead of us.
“But, despite this, last season we were able to win the title and reach the final of the FA Cup. This season, we want to try to repeat our achievement in reaching the final of the FA Cup.”
Giroud arrived in an £18 million deal from Arsenal late in the January transfer window — and with Morata in the midst of a 13-match goal drought — and subsequently started up front in place of the Spain international for Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League round of 16 at Camp Nou.
Morata has struggled for form and fitness at Chelsea after making a blistering start to the season. He missed a significant period of 2018 with a lingering back problem, but broke his goalless run and showed signs of life in Chelsea’s 2-1 extra-time win over Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinals earlier this month.
The 25-year-old is poised to keep his starting spot on Sunday, and Conte insisted that a return to full health was all his club-record signing needed to rediscover his confidence and scoring touch.
“He had this problem in his back,” Conte said of Morata. “If you remember, I said I didn’t know the time of his recovery: one day, one month, if the season had finished. He solved the problem and our medical department was very good to put him in the best physical condition to solve this problem.
“I think, at the start of this period, he continued to feel a bit of pain in his back. But now he’s ready, totally fit. For sure, when a striker is not scoring, the confidence can go down. For the strikers, the goals are of vital importance: for himself, for his confidence. But I saw him very well in this period. I think it has been an important period for him.
“He needed to rest and then to have hard sessions of work to find his best physical condition for the final part of the season.
“I think the problem wasn’t the competition. For sure, now, there are two strong possibilities [to start up front] and I have to make the best decision. I’m very happy that, in the last game, Alvaro scored an important goal for us and for him. Now I’m waiting for a great final [part] of the season from Alvaro, from Olivier but, especially, for the team.”