Antonio Conte smells blood in the water as Spurs lead rivals in top-four race

Son Heung-min’s hat-trick and a Dejan Kulusevski strike earned a 4-0 win against Aston Villa that sent Tottenham three points in clear in fourth.

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte is out for blood in the race for the top four (Nick Potts/PA)

By Jonathan Veal, PA

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte told his side to “feel the blood” of their top-four rivals after a potentially decisive weekend in the race for Champions League qualification.

After Manchester United and Arsenal both lost earlier in the day, Son Heung-min’s sensational hat-trick and a fine Dejan Kulusevski strike earned a 4-0 win against Aston Villa that sent Spurs three points in clear in fourth.

It could not have been a bigger statement from Conte’s side and they will now be favourites to finish the job, having won six of their last seven Premier League games.

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“It was a great win for us, it wasn’t easy. But a great win, especially when you play a game after the games of your rivals in the race for the Champions League and they lost,” the Italian said.

“Wolves, Manchester United and Arsenal. We had to show in this moment that you start to feel the blood of your opponent and it is important to not fail.

“For this reason we are working a lot on the mentality. The players are giving me great satisfaction in many aspects.

“I said this before Arsenal, United and then Wolves and West Ham are with us in the same race for a place in the Champions League.

“To know that your opponent lose their games, and for sure they have to give you the right desire, the right will to get three points because in one hand you know our rivals lose the game if we lose, but we are always in the fourth place.

“A little medium team can think this. A top, strong team think that it is the right moment to improve the distance over your rivals and exploit this situation.

“We did this despite the difficulty of the game. I repeat we didn’t play with a team (that is) no good, we played against Aston Villa in this stadium, it’s not easy for anyone to win here.”

You start to feel the blood of your opponent and it is important to not fail

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte

Despite the scoreline Spurs did not have it all their own way and could have been out of the game at half-time had it not been for Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal.

After Son’s early opener, Villa were all over Tottenham and had 14 shots, with the Frenchman saving seven of them.

Tottenham’s deadly front three showed their killer instinct after the break as Son completed his treble and Kulusevski also bagged.

Boss Steven Gerrard, whose side have now lost four games in a row, said the first-half performance was the best of his tenure.

“First half… best performance we have had together in the first 45 minutes,” he said.

“I can’t remember many times through my football career where I have been so proud and happy going off a pitch 1-0 (down).

“In terms of what you were asking the players to go and do on the pitch, I thought we were dominant, we were aggressive, we suffocated Tottenham, I thought we created enough chances to win more than one football match, but we didn’t execute.

“I was scratching my head going off how we we were losing that game 1-0.

Steven Gerrard was the losing boss as Aston Villa were hammered by Spurs (Nick Potts/PA)

“I thought the second goal was a real blow for us. It was real quality from Tottenham’s point of view, but defensively it is extremely poor. The third and fourth goals were no better on the eye.

“They made it about our backline in the second half, they were ruthless with their quality and that’s the reason the scoreline is what it was.

“They are certainly high-level players. I would say two of them are world class and the young kid from Juventus Kulusevski is potentially a top player.

“That is my opinion on it. You have to remember Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea have world-class players as well. I am not sure where Tottenham sit in the league but normally the teams that win the league have the best forward line.”

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