Antonio Conte has set out his targets for the second half of the season and told Tottenham to believe anything is possible in the Champions League.
Spurs’ inconsistent form during a hectic period of 13 matches in 43 days has seen any faint hopes of a Premier League title tilt end.
A thrilling 4-3 win over Leeds on Saturday did at least help finish the first part of the campaign on a high with the club in fourth spot and already through to the last-16 of the Champions League.
While Conte has been keen to play down expectations in recent months, when asked about his 2023 aims he highlighted Tottenham’s runner-up finish in Europe’s elite competition three years ago as an example of what could be achieved after Monday’s draw set up a knock-out meeting with AC Milan.
“We have to be pleased because to stay in the top four and to reach the next round of the Champions League is a big achievement for us,” he said.
“My hope is to have all the players available for the second part of the season and then we’ll see, but for sure there is a great desire to continue to improve our path.
“The Champions League is a tournament in which anything can happen.
“It’s important to arrive in the best physical condition with all the players. In the past it happened for Tottenham to reach the final because especially with this short tournament anything can happen.
“To win the Premier League, the winner in the end is always the one who is best, the team deserves to win across 38 games, but in a short competition, we’ll try to do our best in the Champions League.
“We know our opponent (AC Milan) is an important opponent but we know the game will be balanced. Then to improve. We want to try improve on the points we got last season and to do better. These are our targets.”
Injuries have contributed to Spurs’ inconsistency with Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison missing for lengthy periods while Son Heung-min has lacked form and more recently fitness.
A debate around Tottenham’s perceived negative style has rumbled under the surface as a result of several abysmal first-half displays but Conte joked no one would go home unhappy after their dramatic win over Leeds.
The visitors held the lead on three occasions but Rodrigo Bentancur’s double in the final 10 minutes earned a crucial three points.
Conte admitted: “In this last period we never showed stability. I think the last period was really tough for everybody, for all the clubs, to play 13 games in 43 days was really tough, because it was impossible to work on the (training) pitch on the tactical aspect.
“One day to recover and then the next day to prepare. For sure when you don’t work on that tactical aspect you are going to lose something, especially defensively we lost a lot I think.
“But there is the positive aspect that we finished this period after a big effort in the next round Champions League and then to stay in the top four in the Premier League is always good news, especially for us.
“Don’t forget in this last period we lost a big friend, a big person in Gian Piero (Ventrone). I think this situation affected emotionally the players a lot because Gian Piero with many players had a fantastic relationship. For this reason I go to rest happy. Happy for what I have seen in this tough period.”
Jesse Marsch defended his 79th-minute substitution and change in system after Leeds went 3-2 ahead.
“We decided to go 4-5-1, which we’ve done lot and been stable in a lot of moments, but then a ball comes into the box and we head it down right to them,” he said.
“For me that is not about tactics, it is about giving it to the opponent at the wrong moment so yeah that was hard to swallow.”