Leaders Chelsea have over-performed this season to stay ahead of their better-prepared London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League title race, manager Antonio Conte has said.
Chelsea are favourites to win the title and can extend their lead over second-placed Tottenham, who failed to rein in Leicester City last season, to seven points with three games left if they beat Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge on Monday.
“In this season, if Chelsea had not performed in this way, Tottenham would win the title without difficulty,” Conte told British media.
“Only this great season (from us) is pushing them to fight and, maybe, to win or not to win the title.”
Conte said that Tottenham had a better foundation for this season as their manager Mauricio Pochettino had developed the squad over the past three years.
“I think that Tottenham have an advantage, if you compare Tottenham to Chelsea,” Conte said.
“Tottenham last season fought to win the title and Chelsea finished 10th. You can see our transfer market and Tottenham’s transfer market.
“This is my first season… (Mauricio) Pochettino has been working there for three years and has changed a lot of players and is working very well.”
Conte said that teams in England had to work harder than those on the continent to get results and this had a knock-on effect in their performances in European and international competitions.
“This league is very difficult. It’s strong. It’s totally different to the Italian or Spanish leagues,” Conte added.
“Every single game you must fight a lot and, I think, also for this reason it’s not easy to arrive at the end of a European competition.
“Also for the national team, it’s very difficult to try and do very well in the World Cup or the Euros because you arrive at the end of the season and the players are tired.”