Antonio Conte suggests it would take a “miracle” for Tottenham to finish in the top four of the Premier League this season, but that remains his ambition.

Spurs return to action at home to Newcastle United on Sunday following the international break.

With fourth-placed Arsenal not in action until Monday, Conte’s men could climb into the Champions League places with a win, although they have already played a game more than their rivals.

It appears an achievable goal, but Conte offered a pessimistic outlook ahead of the game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

“It’s right to underline that this target is very, very difficult and we aren’t the only team that wants to try and do this miracle,” Conte said.

“It’s important to have this type of ambition – we have the possibility.”

The coach at least sees Tottenham in a better place than when he took over, adding: “I’m seeing great improvement in my team and we have to fight until the end.

“To play Champions League next season is important for me, the club, the players, the fans, everybody.”

Newcastle had been a team in form at the start of last month, only to lose consecutive games to Chelsea and Everton.

Eddie Howe said: “Now we need to regroup and go again in what is a very difficult game against an in-form team.

“It’s a really tough game, this one, and I think tactically we need to be very good. Antonio Conte’s teams are very well set up and they’ve got outstanding players.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Tottenham – Rodrigo Bentancur

Winning the midfield battle against Newcastle has been a relatively straightforward task in seasons past, but they have improved significantly in the second half of the season. So have Tottenham, however, thanks in large part to Bentancur’s arrival. Conte will rely on him to control the game.

Newcastle United – Joelinton

If anyone is going to disrupt Bentancur and Co., expect it to be Joelinton. His first goal in English football, then playing as a forward, came against Spurs back in 2019, while he netted again at home to Tottenham last season. Now, his focus is on breaking up play, which he does brilliantly.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Tottenham have won just two of their past seven Premier League home games against Newcastle (D1 L4) and have not scored more than once in any of these seven meetings.

– Since their return to the Premier League in 2017, Newcastle have won just one of their nine league meetings with Tottenham (D2 L6), although that victory did come away from home in August 2019 (1-0).

– Tottenham have won four of their last five Premier League games (L1), having lost four of their five before that (W1). Spurs have scored at least twice in all five of these games, last doing so in more consecutive league matches between February and April 2017 (seven).

– Following a nine-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, Newcastle have now lost their last two. Both of these defeats have been by a 1-0 scoreline, with the winning goals being scored in the 89th and 90th minutes respectively.

– Newcastle have not conceded more than once in any of their past 11 Premier League games, shipping eight goals in that time. Only twice have they had a longer such run in the competition – 18 games between November 2003 and March 2004, and 12 games between March and August 1997.