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 Lisbon.
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.”