ntonio Conte has said his inconsistent Tottenham players are struggling to cope with the pressure of playing every week.
Conte — who admitted he was still “not 100 per cent” following emergency surgery to remove his gallbladder last week — returned to the touchline for Saturday’s shambolic 4-1 defeat at Leicester, having watched from his sickbed in Italy as they produced a magnificent team display to beat Manchester City a week earlier.
Spurs would have moved into the top four with a win over the Foxes and have often struggled to build on big victories under Conte.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg against AC Milan, the head coach admitted his side were lacking “stability” and said part of the problem was his squad’s tendency “to collapse” in some situations.
“It is not an easy task being so focused,” said Conte. “We are working on that, playing under pressure all of the time is good for some players and bad for others.
“Sometimes players feel motivated, other times feel so much under pressure that they can’t perform.
“Maybe for a period they have a good performance and then they collapse all of a sudden if they feel too much pressure. We are working on this, we want to make our players more resilient but there are also external factors like injuries for very important players for us.”
Conte was speaking at the San Siro, where he guided Inter Milan to an historic Scudetto two years ago, and claimed it is easy for players to cope with pressure in his home country.
“England is not like Italy, the Premier League is not like Serie A, we have different cultures in these two leagues,” Conte added. “In England it is much more difficult to be focused and stay focused for every game. In Italy it is easier.
“In Italy you speak about football from Monday and you finish on Sunday. You speak only football and then you have a lot of TV that speaks football and putting a lot of pressure. You are born in this way and you grow in this way, with this pressure, and you are used to living with this type of situation.
“In England I think that there is an atmosphere that brings to enjoy football without a lot of pressure, because football is a sport and in Italy sometimes football is not only a sport, it is a war between the teams and the fans. I think for this reason is the main difference about the pressure.”
Conte’s return has coincided with a spate of serious injuries in his squad, with Rodrigo Bentancur ruled out for the rest of the season after rupturing his ACL and Yves Bissouma set for around seven weeks on the sidelines following ankle surgery.
Ryan Sessegnon is set for six weeks out with a hamstring problem, while Hugo Lloris could be sidelined for up to eight weeks with a knee problem.
Conte admitted it was hard to watch the City game from afar and said Spurs needed to pull together like never before to get through the current situation.
“For sure, it was really difficult to stay far from the team,” he said. “Because you have a sense of responsibility, you want to stay every moment with your players, to breathe the environment in every situation.
“I’m feeling much better than before. I’m not still 100 per cent but I think I’m recovering well, it’s very important for me to stay with the team, work with them and try to stay together in a difficult moment for us. Because in the last period we were not so lucky, because three surgeries — me and two surgeries for the players.
“In the last seven days we had four serious injuries. For this season I think to stay together is very important and try in this type of situation to create the right spirit, to help each other much more than before to work together and overcome this difficult period.”
With Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg suspended for the first leg at the San Siro, Conte has just two available midfielders in Oliver Skipp, 22, and 20-year-old Pape Matar Sarr. Eric Dier could step into midfield, where he was a success under Mauricio Pochettino, but Conte said he had not had time to experiment.
“We did not have the time to take into consideration this option [of Dier in midfield],” Conte said. “Rodrigo had an injury two days ago and the time was so short to prepare this game that I did not think of another solution.
“We have the solution in our house, with the two young players, Skippy and Pape Sarr. They are really young and we have to help them to overcome the emotion, and then we trust them.”