Antonio Conte, Thomas Tuchel clash signifies hunger to join title race

·6 min read

LONDON — Antonio Conte and Thomas Tuchel are both winners and both seemed to enjoy their spats on the sidelines as they were sent off following Tottenham’s dramatic last-gasp 2-2 draw at Chelsea.

The atmosphere crackled at Stamford Bridge. Conte and Tuchel celebrated goals wildly. Players put everything on the line to win. Fans vented their delight and anger at each other, and the officials. This is how this type of derby game between title top four teams should be. This was the Premier League at its ugly, brutal best.

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Conte and Tuchel are winners and they want their teams to be winners this season. Even though this boiled over, this shows how desperate they are to try and close the gap on title favorites Manchester City and Liverpool.

Deep down Tuchel and Conte were far from happy with finishing third and fourth respectively last season. They have Ricky Bobby’s mentality: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

I’m not saying Spurs and Chelsea will close that gap this season, or get near it, but that is the aim of Conte and Tuchel and that is why they went at it on the sidelines, twice, in a pulsating clash on Sunday.

There is no love lost between them, and that matches the feeling Chelsea and Tottenham generally have towards one another. All of that drama led to an epic encounter which had it all and ended with a huge melee as Conte and Tuchel clashed one more time.

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Conte calls for calm, admits he and Tuchel enjoyed clash

“Honestly, the referee showed me a red card but he didn’t understand the dynamic of what happened. It’s okay. I have to accept. This is not a big problem. This is not important. The problem is between me and the other coach,” Conte said afterwards.

After being asked if he enjoyed the clash, Conte smiled.

“I think we did enjoy” he laughed, before adding. “Next time we pay more attention and shake the hands and solve the problem.” Conte then said, laughing again: “I think the celebration on both sides was a very good celebration,” and discussed Tuchel’s Jose Mourinho-esque goal celebration as he ran down the sidelines, which matched Conte’s wild celebrations for Spurs’ goals.

Ever the competitor, Conte loved every single second of these spats and the aftermath.

He loved getting under the skin of Tuchel and Chelsea to prove his Tottenham are no pushovers and will be neck and neck with them to try and get closer to Manchester City and Liverpool this season. Conte wasn’t fazed by the boos of the Chelsea fans, the supporters who previously adored him for winning them a Premier League title in 2016-17.

The Italian coach also said he and Tuchel should not be suspended for their next game over their spat but they will be. And you know what? He, and Tuchel, are fine with it. Deep down they know the message something like this sends out early in the season.

“Yeah, it was hot from the temperature, hot between the benches, hot on the field and hot between the spectators. Everything you would want and hope for from a match like this early in the season,” Tuchel smiled as he spoke to the BBC after the game. “We did not insult each other, we did not hit each other, we were fighting for our teams and that is it. From my side, absolutely no hard feelings and it’s part of it. I am surprised we both got a red card for that. But okay.

Chelsea, Tottenham show why they can, and can’t, take the next step

What they won’t be okay with is the shortcomings their teams showed.

Chelsea dominated Tottenham but couldn’t finish their chances (a familiar trend) and were punished for that. Tottenham failed to dictate the tempo of the game and couldn’t break out of Chelsea’s relentless high-press for most of the 96 minutes, but they found a way to snatch a point.

“Today, I have to be honest, for sure Chelsea showed to be, in this game, better than us. We can do better, “Conte admitted. “But at the same time we scored twice and in the last three games [against them] we didn’t score. We got a point and we showed character, personality. My players wanted to stay in the game until the end. We have to continue to work and improve. My players know very well my idea and we have to continue to work, to improve, because with the ball we could do better.”

After launching a scathing assessment of the referee Anthony Taylor for several decisions during the game, which will likely see a further FA charge coming his way, Thomas Tuchel admitted: “I don’t even know if I will get punished for my sentences now.”

When told by a reporter he will probably miss Chelsea’s trip to Leeds next Sunday, here was his razor sharp response: “So I cannot coach but the referee can whistle the next game? Cool.”

Thomas Tuchel took exception to Conte not looking at him when they shook hands and Tuchel seemed to be more of the aggressor than Conte, but the latter certainly wasn’t going to stand down. This was Mourinho vs Wenger, Benitez vs Ferguson and Ferguson vs Wenger type stuff. This is the kind of thing that happens when teams are fighting at the top, or to be at the very top.

Conte and Tuchel are cut from the same cloth. They are both winners. They both of their teams on the cusp of muscling in to the title challenge. They want to take the next step and are close to taking it. That is why tempers flared.

Their behavior wasn’t big, nor was it clever. But it was perhaps necessary to show their teams how much it means to them and to set an example of how much they should want to win each and every game.

Having that kind of hunger — which Manchester City and Liverpool have — week in, week out, is how both Chelsea and Tottenham will take the next step.

Antonio Conte, Thomas Tuchel clash signifies hunger to join title race originally appeared on NBCSports.com