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Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte has explained why he substituted forward Dejan Kulusevski for defender Davinson Sanchez late on in their must-win game against AC Milan on Wednesday.
Spurs were eliminated from the Champions League at the last 16 stage after losing to the Italians 1-0 on aggregate, drawing 0-0 back in north London this week.
Despite needing to score a goal, Tottenham hardly troubled Milan over 180 minutes and were particularly toothless in Wednesday’s do-or-die clash.
Cristian Romero was sent off with just over 10 minutes to play, though with Spurs desperately searching for a breakthrough, Conte opted to replace Kulusevski with Sanchez.
The substitution was roundly booed at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with pockets of fans chanting ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ and even the name of former manager Mauricio Pochettino.
First-team coach Ryan Mason was pictured questioning the change on the touchline, and it has been compared to the fatal substitution predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo made during his final game in charge of Spurs, bringing off Lucas Moura for Steven Bergwijn when also needing to score.
Conte was asked about his decision to make this substitution ahead of Spurs’ return to Premier League action against Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
“We had three strikers [Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Richarlison], we continued to play with three strikers. We played with [Pedro] Porro. We played with a 3-4-3 [before], without [11 players], we played with 3-2-3,” he said.
“But if you win the game, it is because you only have strikers? We have to find in every moment to risk but not to lose the balance. Then we had the chance. If you think that we can play with four strikers, with 2-2-4 and if you think so with the counter attack and the space, well…
“I think I do my job and everyone has to do their job. I think that I have a career behind me and the experience to try to make the best decision. Then I repeat and you can accept or not. The reality to risk to score and if you score one goal you go into 30 minutes with four strikers. I understand the fans but I’m the coach and I always have to find the best solution for the team.”