Wembley ambience to inspire visitors

Tottenham's Eric Dier in an aerial battle against Chelsea's Tiemoue Bakayoko during the EPL champions' 2-1 win at Wembley on Sunday.
Tottenham's Eric Dier in an aerial battle against Chelsea's Tiemoue Bakayoko during the EPL champions' 2-1 win at Wembley on Sunday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Stadium will motivate rivals, says Blues boss, but Pochettino says it did not influence loss

LONDON • Antonio Conte has warned Tottenham Hotspur that the grandiose surroundings of Wembley may serve to inspire visitors to their temporary home in the season ahead, and praised the champions' fighting spirit as Chelsea kick-started their title defence with a 2-1 win on Sunday.

The Italian manager was forced to field a makeshift side against Tottenham after suspensions and injury ate into his options, with David Luiz forced into midfield and Andreas Christensen handed a first start in the Premier League.

Yet, two goals from Marcos Alonso left Tottenham, unbeaten at White Hart Lane last season, with only one win in 10 competitive games in the national stadium since they won the League Cup against the same opponents nine years ago.

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino was quick to dismiss the Wembley effect as a contributing factor to his team's first league loss at home since May last year.

Yet, Conte suggested the chance to play at Wembley had served to inspire his team.

"Honestly, this atmosphere was great and this stadium, Wembley, is fantastic," he said.

"So to feel this atmosphere was amazing, also as an opponent. Our fans tried to push, despite 70,000 Tottenham supporters. But, honestly, I think this kind of atmosphere is great also for the opponents."

Asked about his team's record at Wembley, Pochettino replied: "It doesn't affect me. I understand that we need to talk, everyone needs to talk… But I think the Wembley effect is not the reason we lost the game.

"The team played really well. It's not fair to blame Wembley. For me, Wembley is one of the best places in the world to play football. And today it was clear - if you love football and watch football, and watch the game again, you will see that Wembley was not the problem.

"Today was not about the tactics. We were much better than Chelsea and we were a little bit unlucky. So I'm not sad or frustrated.

I'm 'happy' to lose in that way. We played better and created chances to score. But that's football. We have to accept they were more clinical than us in front of goal."

Chelsea's victory helped ease the tension after a difficult summer behind the scenes and the untimely 2-3 loss to Burnley at Stamford Bridge on the opening weekend, with Conte praising his depleted team's response in adversity.

Conte opted for a new-look 3-5-1-1 system that featured David Luiz in midfield alongside new signing Tiemoue Bakayoko, who was pressed into action earlier than scheduled after overcoming a knee injury.

Conte described both players' performances as "amazing" and said Chelsea's ability to withstand Tottenham's pressure had been a display of "champions".

"I want to thank every one of my players," said the Italian, whose selection had been shorn of the suspended Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, the injured Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, who is absent without leave in Brazil.

"They showed me great desire, great spirit, great will, great heart, great will to fight. I saw fighters in a moment that's not easy for us with the suspensions and the injuries."

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2017, with the headline 'Wembley ambience to inspire visitors'. Print Edition | Subscribe