When Tottenham host West Ham in north London on Sunday afternoon, Cristian Stellini will once again be a mainstay in attack.
Earlier this week, It has been announced that Spurs head coach Antonio Conte will stay in Italy – after a 0-1 loss to AC Milan in the Champions League – after a check-up following recent gallbladder surgery.
And so, his assistant and countryman will come to power for the third time this season.
The first was a 2-1 Champions League win over Marseille in November, when Conte was forced to serve a directive ban, the second was a 1-0 win over Manchester City in the Premier League on February 5.
Two wins from two is not a bad thing for a man whose experience leading a team is quite the equivalent of five months leading Alessandria in Serie C in 2017.
But any suggestion that he was enjoying the experience was quickly refuted. This is a case of holding the fortress, nothing more.
“My feeling is not to enjoy this; my feeling is to be in charge,” he said in an exclusive interview with Sports sky at Tottenham’s Hotspur Way training ground.
“I felt the pressure. It was a time when I needed to grow as a coach and when you have to make important decisions, you have to feel responsible.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the club, the fans, the players, our work, our lives. It’s much more important than my feelings.”
It’s certainly a welcome bonus that he has a direct line of communication with Conte, who keeps a close eye on the team’s affairs as he takes time out to recuperate at his family’s home, though halfway through Europe.
The pair – who previously worked together at Juventus and Inter Milan – are in touch “several times a day”, but while Stellini admits Conte needs time to fully recover, he is struggling with being apart every day. team activity day.
He continued: “Antonio is recovering and is a bit sad that he can’t be here with us. But he is fine physically. We understand that he needs to recover from the surgery and now. he needs to take his time.
“We don’t know whether the pain [he felt during the AC Milan game] comes from stress or the little time he spends recuperating to continue in charge and live football as Antonio usually does with passion and perhaps this passion brings him more pain . He understood that he came back too soon.
“He’s always available. We talk about the team and practice every day and some decisions we’ll make together.
“But this time is only good for his recovery because when Antonio is away from work he is not happy. He is happier here, working with us and the team. Maybe it is a type of thing. other stress, but he needs to calm down. Even so, I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
So how did the players react to Stellini’s repeated reinforcements?
“They’re focused,” explained Stellini. “In this respect, I feel very good and comfortable because when I look into the eyes of the players, I feel they are taking on more responsibility because Antonio is not here.
“They also care about me because my relationship with them is very special, like every assistant coach needs. I can feel that the players want to do it too because they like it when we do. work together.
“It’s strange [to step up] because it’s another job. It’s weird to command a game [vs Marseille], but I had the coach with me. It’s different now because the coach isn’t here, but I feel Antonio’s presence beside me.
“I want to make it clear, I am not alone. We are responsible together, we organize everything together and with all the employees.”
Spurs enter Sunday’s game after successive defeats to Leicester and AC Milan and remain fifth in the Premier League table, despite having played two more games than Brighton, who are four points behind. Friday.
Stellini admits he has seen improvements in Milan’s play, but is looking for his players to move up another notch against the Hammers, who drew Newcastle and Chelsea in their last two outings.
“We are sad because after the win against Man City we thought we could be better, much stronger,” he said.
Tottenham’s next 5 matches
- West Ham (H) – Premier League, Sunday 19 February – Live on Sky Sports
- Chelsea (H) – Premier League, Sunday 26 February – Live on Sky Sports
- Sheffield United (A) – FA Cup, Wednesday, March 1
- Wolves (A) – Premier League, Saturday March 4
- AC Milan (H) – Champions League, Wednesday, March 8
“My feeling is that the Leicester game is exactly three days before the AC Milan game and that could affect the whole team. We have to accept that.”
“AC Milan’s performance was much better than Leicester’s. It was a game where we conceded in a situation we could control and my expectation is to play a great game on Sunday. Sunday against West Ham because we need and deserve it We want to play a game and win.
“We have to be wary because West Ham have a special skill, they are very strong. In this league, not many clubs have this skill. They are strong, tall, strong counter-attack, firmly fixed. sure.” – pieces, so they will be difficult to play with them.
“We know this is a derby at our stadium in front of the fans and we want to play a great game and show from the start that we are a team.”
Against Milan, the north Londoners start with Oliver Skipp, 22, and Pape Matar Sarr, 20, in midfield, due to Rodrigo Bentancur’s season-end ACL injury and the suspension of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
With a smile, Stellini appreciated the young couple and explained their importance at a time when the club was going through an injury crisis, with Hugo Lloris, Ryan Sessegnon and Yves Bissouma. also had to sit out for long periods of time.
“Rodrigo was an important player last season because we achieved our goals with Hojbjerg and Bentancur together for a long time. We had to accept the loss of Bentancur for a long time.
“It’s dangerous, but we’re also happy at the moment with the performances of Skipp and Sarr. We have two young players ready. We have repeated over and over again that we believe in everything. both young players and both Pape and Skippy are now a reality.
“They are not just young players, they can play and will have to play in the future. They are amazing [against Milan]. They are completely focused on the game and they never leave the game. They created a great balance for us in defense, attack and in transition; they have repeatedly blocked the transition of AC Milan.”
It remains to be seen whether that partnership continues in the short term but, whatever happens, Spurs have a clear week before facing Chelsea at home next Sunday. can only prove beneficial to its development.
And with Conte unlikely to be expected to return to Hotspur Way anytime soon, that period will certainly prove valuable for Stellini and the players to minimize disruption.
“Having a whole week to prepare for a game is very important, because you have little time and in some respects you can’t work with a tight schedule where we play three days a day. We’re going to take advantage of this week to not only have a day off, but also work in some respects to play a lot of games.”
Spurs are in good hands in Conte’s absence – and, all right, he could find them in an even better position when he returns.
Watch Tottenham vs West Ham match on Premier League Sports Sky on Super Sunday from 4pm; starts at 4:30pm