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Stellini to lead Tottenham vs. Chelsea on Sunday, with Conte to return soon

Tottenham’s assistant manager said he expects Antonio Conte back before too long.

Tottenham Hotspur Training Session Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

With Tottenham Hotspur hosting Chelsea on Sunday, a match that is always fraught with narratives and (often) poor results, maybe a little shakeup is what’s needed. Tottenham assistant manager Cristian Stellini again took to the microphone in a press conference to answer media questions ahead of Sunday’s match, assuring supporters that Antonio Conte will be back soon... but not yet.

“No, I don’t think [Conte will be back]. It is not the moment but he is very close because I feel also his energy. We have a call three time a day, also in the evenings so absolutely I feel Antonio like he is here.

“[Antonio and I] speak a lot and if we compare when Antonio had the surgery three weeks ago to now, it is completely different. He is completely involved. We transfer to him our feeling, this sensation we have on the players. He can watch also the training so the energy is coming again 100 per cent so it is completely different now Antonio is back and he is involved in every situation and every decision.

“I am looking forward to having him back and i think when he comes back if you want the part of your body something when you have the energy is completely top and so when he would be back I think the impact of Antonio will be incredible.”

Stellini noted that, thankfully, there are no new injuries to speak of within the squad — meaning, of course, that the club will still be without Rodrigo Bentancur, Hugo Lloris, Yves Bissouma, and Ryan Sessegnon for weeks (or in Lolo’s case, significantly longer). However, Stellini didn’t really bite when asked whether he’d be starting Richarlison in place of Son Heung-Min for the second consecutive game.

“The decision was about the condition of the players. Richy had recovered 100 per cent, Son had a problem that he bring with him for a bit of time. Sometimes player that has a problem needs time to recover and be well prepared for the next period. In the next period we have four games in 10 days and every game will be tough. We need every player 100 per cent, it will be tough and we need every player 100%. If we have one player 100 per cent and another one 70 per cent, we have to choose the 100 per cent player.”

The two anecdotal points certainly suggest that keeping a tired Sonny on as an impact sub might be the way forward for now, but we’ll see what Stellini (or Conte, via text) decides on Sunday.

Interestingly, the loss of Bentancur and Bissouma has had the side effect of teenager Alfie Devine permanently joining Spurs’ first team training. Devine is highly regarded by the coaching staff and most thought he’d be out on loan this spring, but the club apparently decided to keep him around to ensure he would earn club-trained status this season. Stellini said that the experience will only help Alfie, who is expected to be a big part of Tottenham’s future.

“Since we have lost Bissouma and Bentancur, Alfie Devine is part of the squad completely 100 per cent. He trains every day with us. Sometime we let him go to play with the Under-21s because he needs to play. He is a young player and we want him to feel ready to play a game. If you don’t live the possibility to play a match, they lose the power and young players need to play many, many games.

“He has the quality, he has power in his mind. Mentally he is a good player because he trains every day completely at our level.”

Stellini, notably, is 6-0 in matches where he’s needed to take charge in Conte’s absence. He’s been a head coach before — with Genoa’s U21 team and with Alessandria in Italy — was asked about whether he thinks he might ever want to be fully leading a team again. Stellini’s answer was modest and deferential (exactly what you’d want out of an assistant manager filling in for an ill head coach):

“I don’t know. I enjoy a lot to be a coach in charge but when you take a decision you have to do your best. Sometimes I think about being a coach, like a dream. But I’m an assistant and that’s the reality. I enjoy being an assistant. I feel I’m good in this job enough to continue.

“Taking decisions when you’re an assistant is different the way you take them, because you think more about training and creating a good pace in the training. Also working maybe sometimes individually with players and you can enjoy a lot this aspect, because an assistant wants to improve the players individually and wants to create the right pace in the training.

“It’s amazing when you feel the player following you. When you are a coach you have to take the decision and feel the responsibility, take a decision that affects the game and the win. So it’s different, the responsibility is much more but maybe this feeling you enjoy to win and to take decisions.”

Spurs kick off against Chelsea at 8:30 a.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. UK. The match is played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and will be broadcast on USA Network and Sky Sports.