Antonio Conte believes his league leaders must embrace the excitement
of the current moment and go all out to emerge victorious over a
testing 180 minutes against recently crowned Portuguese champions
Benfica, starting with tomorrow’s Europa League semi-final first leg in
The Eagles approach the encounter riding on the crest of a wave
after bringing an end to FC Porto’s three-year domestic dominance by
wrapping up the league title with two games to spare on Sunday evening.
And with Benfica also still in the running for the two Portuguese
cups, Conte appreciates the extent of the challenge that lies ahead when
his men square up with a side gunning for a historic quadruple and
still smarting from last year’s stumble at the final Europa League
hurdle against Chelsea.
Speaking to the media at tomorrow’s venue, the Estadio da Luz, the
44-year-old began: “It won’t be straightforward. Benfica are a very
strong team. They lost last year’s Europa League final against Chelsea,
who could be Champions League finalists this time around.
“They are sixth in the UEFA rankings and have consolidated their
position even further by winning the league title. Jorge Jesus is a
manager I have plenty of respect for, I had the pleasure of meeting him
at the UEFA meeting and he’s doing great things with his side.
“The fact that they have already sealed the title means they can
exclusively focus on the Europa League, while we’re still to reach our
domestic goal. However, these are tiring but exciting times for us and
we’ll look to come out on top in both competitions.”
When asked about the differences between Serie A and Europa League,
Conte reflected on the different challenges and abilities required for
attacking both competitions with the correct, “winning” attitude.
“Winning’s always difficult. Behind this verb lies plenty of hard
work, sweat, sacrifice and at times a slice of luck. The league
represents a 38-game journey and you’ve got greater possibilities to
redeem yourself if you slip up. In Europe the margin for error is
minimal and your current form also counts a great deal.”
Much of the media’s interest focused on the current fitness of
South American duo Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal, after both were rested
in last weekend’s 1-0 home win over Bologna.
Whilst confirming the return of Tevez to full training, Conte
concluded by conceding tomorrow night’s semi-final first leg will come a
little too soon for the Chilean midfielder.
He added: “Carlos is back training normally with the group, but
I’ll wait until tomorrow before deciding whether he’ll start or not.
Arturo, on the other hand, is unavailable. He’ll rest up over the next
few days and we hope he’ll be back within the week.”