Antonio Conte’s packed in-tray at Tottenham: Have a heart-to-heart with Harry Kane, revive Dele Alli’s game, release Emerson Royal and Sergio Reguilon as flying wing-backs… and pay more attention to detail!
- Antonio Conte has been appointed as the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur
- It comes 24 hours after Nuno Espirito Santo paid the price for poor results
- The Italian is a proven winner but he has plenty of problems to fix at his new club
- A priority will be to get Harry Kane scoring again, by handing him more freedom
- Conte will likely adapt Spurs to his favoured wing-back formation in a 3-5-2
- Finding the right balance in midfield will be key to making the system work
When Antonio Conte was chauffeured through the well-manicured grounds of Tottenham’s training base in Enfield to take command on Tuesday, things will have started to feel very different at this underachieving club.
The Italian manager – a proven winner, master tactician, a man of authority and discipline who demands to have everything his way – represents a stark contrast from his underwhelming predecessor, Nuno Espirito Santo.
Conte certainly represents a major gamble by Daniel Levy and the Spurs hierarchy – his contract runs until 2023 with an option to extend it, but at £13million per year he doesn’t come cheap, and he could either restore success to the club or backfire spectacularly like Jose Mourinho.
Antonio Conte has been confirmed as Tottenham’s new manager on a deal until 2023
But Conte has plenty to fix to get Spurs winning again after the dire 3-0 loss to Man United
What is for certain is that Conte has his work cut out to rescue Tottenham’s season. It’s only just November but things were unravelling fast under Nuno, who came with a reputation for being meticulous but proved the opposite.
They sit ninth in the Premier League, with five wins balanced by five defeats and seemingly little middle ground. There is work to be done to get out of their Europa Conference League group and it’s West Ham next in the Carabao Cup.
We take a look at some of the urgent fixes Conte must make as he gets down to work at Tottenham this week.
Revitalise Kane to get Spurs scoring again
Only Norwich – who already look doomed to relegation – have scored fewer goals than Spurs in the Premier League so far this season.
This economy in front of goal was absolutely fine when they ground out three consecutive 1-0 wins at the start of the campaign – enough to earn Nuno the August manager of the month award.
But when teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and even Crystal Palace started ripping them apart, there was simply no answer from Tottenham’s attack.
Harry Kane has cut a forlorn figure for most of the season as he struggles to find goals
Addressing Kane’s mindset will be Conte’s top priority, with goals desperately needed
On paper, with the likes of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn in their ranks, Spurs should have more than enough to trouble most defences they encounter.
But it just hasn’t been happening for them this season. Kane has just one Premier League goal so far, Moura and Bergwijn none, with Son contributing four.
A better return in the Carabao Cup and the Europa Conference League shouldn’t mask the reality that Kane is struggling and that must be Conte’s first priority.
The Italian has never made any secret of his admiration for the England striker. He described his abilities as ‘devastating’ while watching him play for England at Euro 2020.
And even when Chelsea manager he said openly that Kane was the one forward he would want to sign if he could.
Kane has combined brilliantly with Son Heung-min in the past but the chemistry has faded
Now he finally has him in his squad, Conte could do a lot worse that sit Kane down for a heart-to-heart after training and find out what’s wrong and what can be done to help.
It’s hard to escape the suggestion that Kane is still disappointed that he wasn’t granted his move to Manchester City in the summer. His performances this season have been those of a player whose heart has left Spurs.
Conte can help Kane rediscover his enthusiasm – and with it his scoring touch – by embracing the all-round game the striker developed when Mourinho was in charge.
Kane has taken to dropping into deeper positions, or out wide, in recent games. But that was in a desperate and forlorn search to just get a touch of the ball.
In the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United on Saturday that proved the final act for Nuno, Kane only touched the ball in the opposition penalty box four times.
Conte recognised Romelu Lukaku’s all-round game at Inter Milan and granted him freedom
At Inter Milan, Conte soon realised that Romelu Lukaku had much more to his game than just being a muscular presence in the penalty box.
Lukaku was encouraged to roam all over the forward line, confusing defenders and making space for other players to take advantage of.
Kane should be told to look for those link-ups with Son that worked so well in recent seasons, to hold the ball up 40 yards from goal and ping a pass wide before charging into the box.
If the England captain can get himself more involved in games, as hasn’t really happened this season, the goals and assists will certainly start to flow again and his confidence will return.
Find greater stability at the back
Having appeared to be quite resolute at the start of the season, Spurs have begun leaking goals at an alarming rate.
Several opponents have been able to tear them apart in recent weeks, the latest being a Manchester United team with Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani up front on Saturday night.
Eric Dier can’t hide his frustration as Tottenham concede against Man United on Saturday
How they could line up
(3-5-2) Lloris; Sanchez, Romero, Dier; Emerson, Ndombele, Hojbjerg, Alli, Reguilon; Kane, Son
(3-4-3) Lloris; Sanchez, Romero, Dier; Emerson, Hojbjerg, Ndombele, Reguilon; Lucas, Kane, Son
It helps explain why their goal difference is minus seven just 10 games into the season, and these dreadful defensive displays are hardly ringing endorsements of Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez and Cristian Romero.
We all know that Conte likes to set up with three-at-the-back in a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2 formation, so why waste any time in getting his team accustomed to playing that way?
It’s often tricky to bring in tactical changes mid-season but Conte needs to be using every training session to drill this new system into his players.
All three of Dier, Sanchez and Romero should get the nod for a belt and braces approach when they head to Everton this Sunday. Japhet Tanganga will be another candidate to play there.
Even if Spurs don’t return to winning ways immediately, they can at least try to stem the leak of goals that has seen them ship three in four league games this season.
Romero will be quite well known to Conte, having played very well on loan at Atalanta last season when the coach was in charge of Inter.
That could be a good starting point, with Romero the central of the three pillars Conte wants to install at the back.
Conte will know all about Cristian Romero’s abilities and he could be the key defender
Identify who would make a good wing-back
Conte deployed wing-backs to excellent effect at Chelsea in 2016-17, when he won the Premier League in his first season in charge.
But what began as a fall-back tactical option actually became a highly effective first choice, with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso adapting well to new roles which require more attacking impetus than defensive responsibility.
At Spurs, there are a few potential candidates for the wing-back role. Sergio Reguilon would appear to be the obvious option on the left given he is a pretty accurate crosser of the ball.
Sergio Reguilon’s crossing and pace make his the obvious candidate for a wing-back role
Ryan Sessegnon, who has endured bad luck with injuries this season, would be another great candidate on that side when he regains his fitness, having performed the role at Fulham.
On the right, Emerson Royal and Matt Doherty could compete for the position, or share it on a rotation depending on the competition.
We can imagine Conte will be looking for signs on the training ground to figure out which players are best suited to these roles, even if the actual tactical switch doesn’t come for a few weeks yet.
On the other flank, Emerson Royal could have the skillset to prosper in Conte’s formation
It’s a soft landing for Conte
As Conte seeks to stamp his authority at Tottenham, he has been blessed by a relatively kind fixture list in his first few weeks.
After Thursday night’s home Europa Conference League tie against Vitesse, they travel on Sunday to an Everton side who have lost their last three games.
A home game against struggling Leeds United and a trip to relegation-threatened Burnley then lie in wait either side of a visit to Slovenian club Mura.
Back-to-back home games against Brentford and Norwich await at the beginning of December.
Premier League unless stated
Thursday Vitesse (H)
Europa Conference League
Sunday Everton (A)
November 21 Leeds United (H)
November 25 Mura (A)
Europa Conference League
November 28 Burnley (A)
December 2 Brentford (H)
Bring back the bite in midfield
Tottenham’s midfield pair of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp found themselves out-fought and out-run by Fred and Scott McTominay on Saturday, with Tanguy Ndombele not a great deal better when he came on.
Too often this season, Spurs have lost the battle in this area and Conte will demand improvement with greater work-rate being the key.
He doesn’t have the luxury of a N’Golo Kante type figure as he did at Chelsea, making the 3-5-2 formation more likely than the 3-4-3 because it provides that extra man in the middle.
Hojbjerg would be the more deep-lying figure acting as cover for the back three and Conte could mix and match with the others, with Giovani Lo Celso and Dele Alli also options.
Oliver Skipp didn’t enjoy the best of afternoons as Manchester United won the midfield battle
The balance between an attacking mindset and a more cautious one would be dictated by each opponent’s threat.
It’ll be interesting to see if Conte can get the best out of Alli again after some off-colour performances saw him relegated to the bench by Nuno.
Alli had shown patches of really good form under Mourinho after getting the tough-love treatment, well documented on that infamous Amazon documentary. But it went downhill after that.
But if given licence to get right up in support of Kane and Son as a No 10, threading passes and taking shots, we might see the 25-year-old back to his best.
It will be a challenge to get Dele Alli back to his best form but he could be an effective No 10
Take greater attention to detail
One of the greatest criticisms of Nuno is that Tottenham’s players didn’t feel adequately prepared for matches.
The Portuguese didn’t go in for practice on game-specific scenarios in the lead-up to matches and there was little sense of there being a bespoke game plan to follow.
It has emerged that the only real instruction ahead of last week’s Carabao Cup game at Burnley was ‘work hard, stay disciplined and Harry or Son will score.’
And that was one of the games where they got away with it and won.
Conte’s predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo wasn’t quite as meticulous as Spurs had hoped
Whatever you might think of Conte as a figure of authority, he certainly won’t be slack on the details.
You don’t win the Premier League in your first season or multiple Serie A titles, nor gain a reputation as a man guaranteed to get winning results, without attention to detail.
Returning to English football, Conte will appreciate that small aspects covered in the preparation and good habits drilled into the players week after week can make all the difference.
Conte has only agreed to an 18-month contract at Tottenham – with the possibility of a one year extension floated – and that is pretty much his life cycle at each club given his explosive personality.
If it does have a distinct feeling of short-termism, then it probably will be. But if Conte takes the firm grip at Spurs that he always has at other clubs then good things could well follow.
Conte won the Premier League title back in 2017 when he was manager of Chelsea – so can he deliver long overdue success to his new club?
CONTE’S SPURS STATEMENT
‘I am extremely happy to return to coaching, and to do so at a Premier League club that has the ambition to be a protagonist again.
‘Tottenham Hotspur has state-of-the-art facilities and one of the best stadiums in the world. I can’t wait to start working to convey to the team and the fans the passion, mentality and determination that have always distinguished me, as a player and as a coach.
‘Last summer our union did not happen because the end of my relationship with Inter was still too recent and emotionally too involved with the end of the season, so I felt that it wasn’t yet the right time to return to coaching.
‘But the contagious enthusiasm and determination of Daniel Levy in wanting to entrust me with this task had already hit the mark. Now that the opportunity has returned, I have chosen to take it with great conviction.’
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