Antonio Conte suggested Tottenham will take UEFA to court over the governing body's "unfair" decision that consequently eliminated his side from the Europa Conference League.  

Spurs' final group match against Rennes on December 9 was called off late on following a coronavirus outbreak at the Premier League club that saw five staff members and eight players test positive.

With a new date unable to be set for their European encounter, UEFA ruled that Spurs had forfeited the game and awarded Rennes a 3-0 victory, therefore eliminating Conte's side from the competition.

However, Conte does not agree with UEFA's decision to award Rennes the win and claimed the outcome may even have been influenced by "personal interest".

"For sure this is an incredible decision," he said at a news conference previewing Wednesday's EFL Cup quarter-final with West Ham. "This decision is not fair. All the world knows we were facing a big problem like COVID. 

"We didn't play through our fault but because we had many, many players with COVID and the government decided to stop our training sessions and to [shut] our training centre.

"Honestly for me, the players, the club and our fans, it's incredible the decision UEFA wanted to take. It's unfair for sure.

"We deserve to play for qualification on the pitch, not in this way. I'm very disappointed for UEFA's decision.

"I hope that in the future, in the next step, something can change because we deserve to play for qualification on the pitch, not in this way. It's not our fault.

"UEFA took this decision but then there's another step to confirm or not this incredible decision. But I repeat I'm very disappointed with UEFA because everybody knows the problem. 

"It means maybe someone doesn't know the problem we were having and maybe [there was] some personal interest [behind the decision]."

UEFA rules state a team cannot call off a match if they have 13 players from their A list, including a goalkeeper, available to play.

Asked to clarify if the "next step" means taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Conte added: "Yeah. UEFA took this decision but there's another step and we're confident that there's another step.

"I repeat, it was incredible what UEFA did. Also, in explanation about this defeat, I have read that Tottenham couldn't play [a rearranged] game because of COVID cases. I dispute this. But [UEFA] took this decision.

"We are very, very confident for the next step and I repeat we deserve to play for qualification on the pitch, not in the court. I can't accept this. We are very, very disappointed with UEFA for this."

Rennes finished top of Group G and are through to the last 16 of UEFA's third-tier European competition, while Vitesse – who finished three points ahead of Tottenham – are scheduled to face Rapid Vienna in the play-off round.

Antonio Conte suggested Tottenham will take UEFA to court over the governing body's "unfair" decision that consequently eliminated his side from the Europa Conference League.  

Spurs' final group match against Rennes on December 9 was called off late on following a coronavirus outbreak at the Premier League club that saw five staff members and eight players test positive.

With a new date unable to be set for their European encounter, UEFA ruled that Spurs had forfeited the game and awarded Rennes a 3-0 victory, therefore eliminating Conte's side from the competition.

However, Conte does not agree with UEFA's decision to award Rennes the win and claimed the outcome may even have been influenced by "personal interest".

"For sure this is an incredible decision," he said at a news conference previewing Wednesday's EFL Cup quarter-final with West Ham. "This decision is not fair. All the world knows we were facing a big problem like COVID. 

"We didn't play through our fault but because we had many, many players with COVID and the government decided to stop our training sessions and to [shut] our training centre.

"Honestly for me, the players, the club and our fans, it's incredible the decision UEFA wanted to take. It's unfair for sure.

"We deserve to play for qualification on the pitch, not in this way. I'm very disappointed for UEFA's decision.

"I hope that in the future, in the next step, something can change because we deserve to play for qualification on the pitch, not in this way. It's not our fault.

"UEFA took this decision but then there's another step to confirm or not this incredible decision. But I repeat I'm very disappointed with UEFA because everybody knows the problem. 

"It means maybe someone doesn't know the problem we were having and maybe [there was] some personal interest [behind the decision]."

UEFA rules state a team cannot call off a match if they have 13 players from their A list, including a goalkeeper, available to play.

Asked to clarify if the "next step" means taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Conte added: "Yeah. UEFA took this decision but there's another step and we're confident that there's another step.

"I repeat, it was incredible what UEFA did. Also, in explanation about this defeat, I have read that Tottenham couldn't play [a rearranged] game because of COVID cases. I dispute this. But [UEFA] took this decision.

"We are very, very confident for the next step and I repeat we deserve to play for qualification on the pitch, not in the court. I can't accept this. We are very, very disappointed with UEFA for this."

Rennes finished top of Group G and are through to the last 16 of UEFA's third-tier European competition, while Vitesse – who finished three points ahead of Tottenham – are scheduled to face Rapid Vienna in the play-off round.

Tottenham are out of the Europa Conference League, with UEFA awarding Rennes a 3-0 victory after the Premier League club were unable to play their final group-stage game due to a number of COVID-19 cases.

Spurs were scheduled to host Rennes on December 9, but five staff members and eight players tested positive for COVID-19 and the game did not take place.

The outbreak in the Spurs camp also forced the postponement of their Premier League clash with Brighton and Hove Albion, while last week's scheduled meeting with Leicester City was then called off due to an outbreak in the Foxes' camp.

Antonio Conte's side returned to action on Sunday with a 2-2 draw against Liverpool.

With a new date unable to be set for their European encounter, UEFA ruled that Spurs had forfeited the game and the North London side are now out of the competition, having needed a win to progress.

A record of two wins, one draw and two defeats from their opening five games had left Spurs third, three points behind Vitesse Arnhem and four off group leaders Rennes.

With Spurs' European campaign coming to a premature end, Conte can now turn full focus to the league campaign and pursuit of qualification for a continental competition next season.

Spurs sit seventh on 26 points, but have only played 15 games so far, while each of the league's current top four have played 18 fixtures.

West Ham, fifth, and Manchester United, sixth, have also played more games than Conte's side, with 17 and 16, respectively.

Antonio Conte expressed his disappointment with UEFA and the Premier League as Tottenham await the verdict on their postponed Rennes clash.

Tottenham were due to meet Rennes in the Europa Conference League last Thursday, but the clash was called off after eight Spurs players and five members of staff returned positive COVID-19 tests.

Conte's side have since had their top-flight meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion postponed after the outbreak, while UEFA is expected to make a decision by the end of the week on the outcome of the game against Rennes.

European football's governing body indicated a new date for the game could not be agreed upon by the two clubs, after COVID-19 cases in the Spurs camp caused a call-off of the fixture.

It remains to be seen what UEFA rules, with Tottenham having needed a win from the Rennes game to reach the knockout stage. Rennes sit top of Group G, after three wins and two draws from their five games. All other group-stage games have been completed.

Spurs lodged a request with the Premier League to postpone their clash with Leicester City on Thursday to allow the Rennes fixture to be fulfilled, but the idea was rebuffed – much to Conte's frustration.

"We want to play the [Rennes] game," Conte told reporters at a news conference. "Tottenham deserves to play the game, to play the last game of this group.

"It's a really strange situation because we didn't play through no fault of our own but because of a big problem and because the government decided to close our training ground, to stop our training session for three days.

"For this reason we didn't play, not for another reason. I think it's not our fault for what happened. We deserve to play this game and to try to have a chance to go to the next round."

Brendan Rodgers also confirmed Leicester, who have nine players absent through positive coronavirus tests and injuries combined, want Thursday's clash rearranged, but the Premier League have refused to do so.

Manchester United's trip to Brentford on Tuesday and Watford's game at Burnley have already both been postponed, though Conte and Rodgers seem set to be forced to meet at the King Power Stadium.

However, Conte explained how he remains bemused by the decision to punish Spurs for a problem that he does not think they caused.

"We don't find a good solution between UEFA and the Premier League, why does Tottenham has to pay for this?

"It's not fair we have to pay for a situation that isn't our fault. I understand if we did something wrong but in this way, for the club, the players, the staff, it's very difficult to understand what is happening."

Spurs head north three points ahead of Leicester, who have played two games more than Conte's side after their respective cancellations against Burnley and Brighton.

But Conte revealed the situation within his squad has not changed too much as players continue to attempt to regain fitness following the outbreak.

"Yes, the situation has not changed so much," he added. "The players are back in training and other players are continuing to be isolated, but also for the players back in training, they need time.

"They need a bit of time to be fit and find again a good physical condition. When you have COVID-19, it is not only 10 days.

"Many times the virus makes your body not so strong. For this reason, you have to go slowly, also because you risk having players injured after having it.

"I enjoyed the work we did with the players. It was good and I have seen a great availability, will and desire to improve.

"I have enjoyed this type of situation. It was a pity to have this problem, with nine players with COVID-19, because it has interrupted the work with the whole squad."

Tottenham could face Rapid Vienna in the Europa Conference League knockout round play-off with the result of their postponed final group match with Rennes still to be decided.

Spurs' Group G finale, which was due to take place last Thursday, was postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak at the club.

They sit third in the group behind Dutch club Vitesse and it is UEFA's Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body that will decide which team progresses after the governing body ruled the match with Rennes would not be rescheduled after failing to find a pre-December 31 date that works for both sides.

Vitesse will progress to face the Austrian club if the game is ruled a Rennes win or a draw.

Meanwhile, Tottenham's Premier League rivals Leicester City, who crashed out of the Europa League, were pitted against Randers of Denmark.

Celtic suffered the same fate as the Foxes and the Glasgow giants will take on Bodo/Glimt for a place in the last 16.

They are not the only former European champions in the draw, with Ligue 1 side Marseille drawn against Qarabag and PSV set to face Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

The first legs will take place on February 17 and the return legs a week later.

Conference League knockout round play-off draw in full:

Marseille v Qarabag
PSV v Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Fenerbahce v Slavia Prague
Midtjylland v PAOK
Leicester City v Randers
Celtic v Bodo/Glimt
Sparta Prague v Partizan Belgrade
Rapid Vienna v Vitesse or Tottenham

Tottenham's postponed Europa Conference League group game with Rennes will not be rearranged, UEFA announced on Saturday.

European football's governing body indicated a new date for the game could not be agreed upon by the two clubs, after COVID-19 cases in the Spurs camp caused a call-off on Thursday's fixture.

It remains to be seen what UEFA rules, with Tottenham having needed a win from the Rennes game to reach the knockout stage. Rennes sit top of Group G, after three wins and two draws from their five games. All other group-stage games have been completed.

In a statement, UEFA said it had been in contact with Tottenham and Rennes in an effort "to find a viable solution in order to reschedule the match".

"Unfortunately, despite all efforts, a solution that could work for both clubs could not be found," said UEFA. "As a consequence, the match can no longer be played and the matter will, therefore, be referred to the UEFA control, ethics and disciplinary body for a decision to be taken in accordance with annex J of the above-mentioned competition regulations."

This section of regulations states that in the case of it being not possible to reschedule a game by a specific deadline – in this case, December 31 is the specified cut-off – UEFA may impose sanctions.

The UEFA guidelines state: "If it is not possible to reschedule the match within the final deadline... the club that cannot play the match will be held responsible for the match not taking place and the match will be declared by the UEFA control, ethics and disciplinary body to be forfeited by the club, which will be considered to have lost it by 3-0."

The same section of regulations states: "Moreover, the UEFA control, ethics and disciplinary body may take further disciplinary measures if the circumstances so justify."

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte said in midweek that eight players and five members of staff at Tottenham had contracted the virus in what he labelled a "serious problem".

Rennes released a statement claiming Tottenham had made a "unilateral" decision to postpone Thursday's clash without UEFA ratification, although the governing body later confirmed the postponement to the French club.

Rennes have two Ligue 1 matches and one Coupe de France game before they take a break over Christmas, resuming their season on January 8.

Spurs' Premier League game against Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday has also been postponed because of the outbreak. Unlike Rennes, they are due to play through the Christmas period.

The draw for the knockout round play-off draw is due to take place on Monday, featuring the eight runners-up from the Europa Conference League group stage and the eight third-placed teams from the Europa League group stage. One seeded place remains unresolved ahead of that draw.

Tottenham sit three points behind Dutch side Vitesse in Group G of the Conference League, as UEFA moves to bring finality to the situation.

Rennes have confirmed their squad is returning to France after their Europa Conference League match with Tottenham was postponed.

Spurs stated on Wednesday that Thursday's encounter with the Ligue 1 side at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium had been called off due to an outbreak of COVID-19 within Antonio Conte's squad.

Conte said that eight players and five members of staff had contracted the virus in what he labelled a "serious problem".

Spurs have reportedly asked the Premier League to postpone Sunday's meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion.

However, Rennes released a statement on Wednesday claiming Tottenham had made a "unilateral" decision to postpone Thursday's clash without UEFA ratification.

Confirmation from the governing body has now been given to Rennes, though, with the visiting club's squad and coaching staff travelling back to France following full negative coronavirus test results.

In a statement published on their official website, Rennes, who play Nice on Sunday, made clear that the rearranged fixture must not further congest a hectic schedule or disrupt their mid-season break.

The statement read: "After being informed of the cancellation of tonight's match by UEFA, Stade Rennais FC decided to return to Brittany. The entire delegation that will board at London City Airport has tested negative.

"Stade Rennais FC hope that the interests of the club will be respected given the important sporting deadlines that await the Rouge et Noir this December. 

"Stade Rennais FC is deeply sorry for the Rennes fans who decided to come to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to cheer on the Rouge et Noir."

Rennes have two Ligue 1 matches and one Coupe de France game before they take a break over Christmas, resuming their season on January 8.

Rennes have contested Tottenham's announcement of their Europa Conference League game being postponed, claiming it to be a "unilateral" decision that is yet to be ratified by UEFA.

Spurs released a statement on Wednesday informing the public of an apparent agreement to postpone Thursday's visit of Rennes due to a coronavirus outbreak.

Antonio Conte revealed earlier in the day that eight players and five members of staff had tested positive for the illness. As a result, Spurs have shut their first-team training facility.

UEFA rules state teams must fulfil a fixture in the competition if they have 13 players, plus a goalkeeper, available for selection.

But Conte claimed Spurs only have 11 players to choose from, with the club subsequently indicating the Group G showdown had been postponed.

However, Rennes have cast doubt over the situation and accused Spurs of seemingly changing their minds about fulfilling the fixture after the Ligue 1 club had landed in London.

A Rennes statement read: "Following the press release published by Tottenham at 21:00 this Wednesday, Stade Rennais FC would like to clarify the following facts.

"In a video conference at 19:45 between representatives of UEFA, Tottenham and Rennes, the Spurs director of football announced their intention not to play the UEFA Europa Conference League game, [on] Thursday evening, [a] unilateral decision which has not been confirmed by UEFA in any way.

"The Tottenham representative did not want to announce the number of players affected by COVID-19 when the rule states that a match must be played as long as the team has 13 outfielders and a keeper.

"They argued for a decision by the English authorities without advancing any official document. As the match was not officially cancelled by UEFA, Rennes upheld their decision to play.

"Faced with this 'London fog', Rennes reserves the right to approach UEFA. This lack of fair play is all the more glaring as Tottenham had confirmed by email that the match would be held at the start of the afternoon before warning Rennes of their intention not to play just after their landing in London."

Rennes are already assured of top spot in Group G, while second-place Tottenham are level on seven points with Vitesse, who host bottom side Mura on Thursday in the final round of group fixtures.

Tottenham's Europa Conference League clash with Rennes on Thursday has been called off because of a coronavirus outbreak at the Premier League club.

Antonio Conte confirmed on Wednesday that eight players and five members of staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

As a result of the spiralling number of cases, Tottenham have shut their first-team training centre.

UEFA rules state that teams must fulfil a fixture in the competition if they have 13 players, plus a goalkeeper, available for selection.

But Conte said Spurs only have 11 players to choose from and the Group G showdown with Rennes at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has now been postponed.

A new date for the fixture, which Tottenham may have to win to remain in the competition, has not yet been set.

A statement on Tottenham's official website read: "We can confirm that our UEFA Europa Conference League Group G home fixture against Stade Rennais will not take place tomorrow after a number of positive COVID-19 cases at the club. 

"Discussions are ongoing with UEFA and we shall provide a further update on this fixture in due course.

"Additionally, following discussions with the Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health England) and DCMS advisers, the club has been advised to close the first team area of its Training Centre at this time, in the interests of the health and safety of players and staff.

"All other areas of the Training Centre remain operational."

Tottenham's Premier League meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday is also believed to be in doubt.

Speaking earlier on Wednesday at a pre-match news conference, Conte said: "Eight players and five members of staff [have tested positive]. But the problem is that every day we're having people with COVID, people that yesterday weren't positive and today are and we're continuing to have contact with. It's a serious problem.

"Today another player and another member of staff positive. Tomorrow, who? Me? Another member of staff? I want to speak about football. This is not a good thing for you, the fans and staff.

"Everyone is a bit scared, we all have families. I ask why? Why? Yesterday we trained and two positives, today we trained and after another two positives. Who next? It's not right, we're going home to our families.

"We had 11 players available for the match and by the end of the training session today one of the players who would start tomorrow is now positive. It's scary. We're all having contact."

Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte has confirmed that there are currently 13 cases of COVID-19 at the club, including eight players.

Spurs are due to play at home to Rennes in their final Europa Conference League group game on Thursday, before travelling to Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League on Sunday.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of the Rennes clash, an emotional Conte revealed the extent of the outbreak at the club.

"Eight players and five members of staff [have tested positive]," Conte confirmed. "But the problem is that every day we're having people with COVID, people that yesterday weren't positive and today are and we're continuing to have contact with. It's a serious problem.

"Today another player and another member of staff positive. Tomorrow, who? Me? Another member of staff? I want to speak about football. This is not a good thing for you, the fans and staff.

"Everyone is a bit scared, we all have families. I ask why? Why? Yesterday we trained and two positives, today we trained and after another two positives. Who next? It's not right, we're going home to our families.

"We had 11 players available for the match and by the end of the training session today one of the players who would start tomorrow is now positive. It's scary. We're all having contact."

Conte had been scheduled to be joined by midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg at the news conference, but instead faced the media on his own.

"To speak about football today is impossible," the Italian added. "The situation is serious. There is a big infection.

"We prepare for the game against Rennes, but it is very difficult."

Tottenham currently sit second in Group G, and need to match or better Vitesse's result against NS Mura on Thursday to qualify, with Rennes having already won the group.

Porto and Sporting CP face a one-year ban from playing in Europe if they fail to pay outstanding debts by the end of next month.

UEFA on Friday revealed sanctions that have been issued to eight clubs for breaches of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

Primeira Liga leaders Porto and second-placed Sporting have been fined €300,000 and €250,000 respectively and will not play in the next UEFA club competition they qualify for in one of the next three seasons unless they can prove by January 31, 2022 they have settled "outstanding overdue amounts."

LaLiga side Real Betis have been hit with a €250,000 fine, while CSKA Sofia and CD Santa Clara were both ordered to pay €75,000 and Mons Calpe SC must fork out €15,000.

All of those clubs also face missing out on playing in Europe in either the 2022-23, 2023-24 or 2024-25 season if they qualify, but have not paid what they owe.

FC Astana and CFR 1907 Cluj were fined €150,000 and €200,000 respectively, but were not threatened with a ban.

The newly established First Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB First Chamber) also found that AEK Athens did not comply with several club licensing and FFP rules.

The Greek club agreed to pay an unconditional financial contribution of €1.5million, while they will also withhold 10 per cent of UEFA prize money they make in the next UEFA club competition they qualify for.

Antonio Conte reiterated "it will take time to bring Tottenham back" following Spurs' shock 2-1 loss to Slovenian minnows Mura in the Europa Conference League.

Harry Kane looked to have salvaged a point for Tottenham by cancelling out Tommy Horvat's opener at Fazanerija, but Amadej Marosa scored a dramatic winner with the final kick on Thursday.

Spurs made nine changes from their 2-1 Premier League win over Leeds United last weekend and played more than an hour with 10 men following Ryan Sessegnon's dismissal.

But the defeat – Tottenham's first under head coach Conte since his appointment earlier this month – will still go down as one of the worst in their European history against a side with a UEFA coefficient ranking of 341.

Spurs can now no longer finish top of Group G, meaning a two-legged play-off awaits in February should they first match Vitesse's result in the final round of group fixtures in a fortnight.

Conte, who has a record of two wins, a draw and a defeat from his four games since replacing Nuno Espirito Santo, accepted an improvement is required in every department ahead of hosting Rennes.

"This is a bad loss for us. The performance was poor," the former Inter boss said. "We know we have a lot of work ahead of us. This is a difficult moment for us. 

"We need patience to improve, to be good again. We were poor not only technically and tactically but also mentally. It will take time to bring Tottenham back.

"I don't take this loss personally. I accepted this challenge to improve and build Tottenham to a better level. But it will take time. 

"I want to thank our supporters for their support. We will analyse the game and I will talk to the players then."

Tottenham are seventh in the Premier League with 12 matches played, four points adrift of the top four, and are back in action against Burnley on Sunday.

"I think this team is very young but at the same time we have to work and improve because the details move the final result," Serie A-winning coach Conte added.

"I did not like what happened tonight, the performance. I must be honest and tell you that after three and a half weeks, I am starting to understand the situation. I can tell you that the situation is not simple.

"It is not simple because in this moment because for sure the level of Tottenham is not so high. There is an important gap to the top teams in England. Of this we must not be scared. 

"I am here to work, here to improve the situation. I know we have to work hard but we have also to improve the quality of the situation, because if we want to be competitive."

Kane, one of two players to retain his place from the Leeds game, was on target for Spurs but otherwise looked off the pace – as did the rest of his team-mates.

"We started poorly, conceded an early goal and were left with ten men," said Kane, who has scored eight goals in his last four outings for club and country.

"In the second half we put on the pressure, scored but then let them get a goal in the last second. We're disappointed, we're angry and we have to learn from this."

Tottenham's Europa Conference League hopes hang in the balance after they suffered a humiliating 2-1 defeat against Mura.

Amadej Marosa scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as 10-man Spurs were beaten for the first time under Antonio Conte.

Prior to Marosa's heroics, the Group G contest had appeared to be heading for a stalemate with Harry Kane cancelling out Tomi Horvat's first-half strike at Fazanerija.

The visitors, who were a man light for over an hour in Slovenia after Ryan Sessegnon was sent off for two bookable offences, now need to beat Rennes in two weeks' time to guarantee progress into the knockout stages.

Antonio Conte is worried that Cristian Romero's hamstring injury is more serious than first thought as Tottenham await the results of a second scan.

Romero sustained the damage during Argentina's goalless draw with Brazil in last week's World Cup qualifier and missed Tottenham's 2-1 win over Leeds United on Sunday.

The severity of the injury remains unclear, but Conte – who is also without Giovanni Lo Celso and Dane Scarlett for Thursday's trip to Mura in the Europa Conference League – is not optimistic.

"I think his injury is a bit serious. We have to wait. I don't know how long he will need to recover," Conte said at Wednesday's pre-match news conference. 

"His injury is worse than Lo Celso and Scarlett. He needs another scan, then the doctor can give more details."

Spurs signed Romero from Atalanta on an initial loan, with a permanent deal for a reported fee of £35.25million (€42m) set to be sealed in 2022, and the 23-year-old has made 13 appearances in all competitions to date.

Despite the defender potentially facing a prolonged spell on the sidelines, Conte is not yet thinking about bringing in a replacement in the upcoming transfer window.

"I'm not thinking about January now," he said. "There's still a long way to go. But I also need to make my evaluations about these players, the whole squad and then we'll see."

Conte will take all of his available players to Slovenia for Tottenham's Europa Conference League tie with Mura, who they beat 5-1 in the reverse fixture under Nuno Espirito Santo.

That includes versatile wide player Ryan Sessegnon following his return to action at the weekend after returning from a three-month spell out of his own.

He has been hampered by injuries throughout his two-and-a-half years with Spurs, which includes a spell on loan with Hoffenheim, but Conte is hopeful the 21-year-old can now get a run of games under his belt.

"Ryan has a great potential. I have seen in the past he suffered injuries, now we are trying to work in the right way with him," Conte said. 

"It's very important during the training session to push yourself. We are working with him for two weeks and he's ready to start tomorrow. I can't wait to see his performance. He's a talented player. Now he needs regularity."

Conte added: "All the players available will come with us, they must be ready to play. I need to make rotations. Some players are a bit tired because of games with national team and our training. 

"But many need game time. We need to take this fixture seriously. But I need to know the players much better and need to see that during a game."

Antonio Conte has no illusions about the challenge he faces in trying to return Tottenham to the top of the table. 

Spurs sit ninth in the Premier League, with five wins and five losses from 10 games this season ahead of Sunday's trip to Goodison Park to face 10th-placed Everton. 

Tottenham have not finished a season atop the top flight since 1991, and Conte acknowledged Friday his side must be ready to earn their ascent. 

"I know that we need to take a bit of time because in the Premier League now there is a gap with at least four teams," Conte said. "But this situation must be an incentive for us to work harder, to try to start to work to close this gap and to start to think that we have to be competitive and then to try to fight for the title.

"At the moment, honestly, I can’t tell you that this team is ready to fight for the title. We have many teams in this moment that are more stable. In football, not as a club because this club I think is super, super stable. But on the pitch, I think we need to work to improve our level and to try to be closer to these teams that are showing to be very, very strong.

"And for this reason, I repeat, I need time but I’m not scared about this because in my life I always work very, very hard to reach the target and to enjoy with the club a title.

"But at the same time, we have to know the reality – we must be focused on the present and to have a vision for the present and also for the future, to be something important together."

Spurs have not hoisted a trophy since winning the League Cup in 2008 but their hopes remain alive in three different cup competitions so far this season. 

Conte's first match in charge was a 3-2 defeat of Vitesse on Thursday in UEFA Europa Conference League play and he hopes to see more along those lines going forward. 

"It’s not easy because you have to work every day and you have to breathe winning mentality every day and you don’t invent this, the winning mentality," he said. "It’s impossible to invent. It’s impossible to pay [for]. Because it doesn’t cost money. No money for winning mentality.

"But I think you have to bring the right people into the club. The winning mentality, you must breathe every day. You have to start every day with this type of mentality. You have to start to think about football for many hours of your life to improve results, to win.

"To start to think that OK, I want to win but I know that it means sacrifice, it means to suffer. It means to work very hard.

"And if you start to think in this way, it means that you want to become a winner. Otherwise, you continue to stay at your medium level."

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