Conte’s Spurs Off to a Flyer

Football’s back, and Spurs are back with a bang after Saturday’s comprehensive victory, 4-1 and dominating without undue effort. Understandable signs of early season rustiness soon disappeared, then we fell into our now familiar pattern of a tight defence and solid midfield as the base to push forward, using space on the flanks. Although Spurs must lift the tempo against better opponents, we now have the capacity to elevate our levels at key moments, and that was enough to control the game. In Kulusevski, we have a star in the making, and he provided the skill and finesse as the standout man.

An unusual summer for Spurs fans, full of justified, legitimate optimism. It’s tough to cope with but somehow I managed. Substantial transfer business completed early, players the manager wants, players with experience who can fit right in, the chairman paying market rates, above perhaps, in order the seal the deal. I can get used to this.

The NLD was a game for the ages. Our rivals wilted in the face of ferocious and sustained support, ‘brutalized’ to use Gary Neville’s accurate description, the force of the home crowd driving the navy blue and white to victory in a manner seldom seen in contemporary English football. However, the true significance may only become clear in the future as a turning point, the moment Spurs discovered a hard-nosed winning mentality.

Conte’s Spurs are writing the opening chapters of their own story, and this is a side we can learn to love. He has become ours, that he belongs here. Conte is a transformative coach and leader. The shape, the tactics, the conversations in the bars, the whole spirit of the place, he’s there. He’s certainly there in our redoubtable back three, in Romero’s cold, emotionless focus and unflinching tackles, while Dier revels in the responsibility of defensive leader. And I’m a big fan of Ben’s Big Toe, because how often does Davies just get in there first, thinking a fraction quicker than his opponent, or indeed his fellow defenders sometimes, to be in the right place, right time. Take each individual event, it looks like desperation last ditch stuff, but the number of times he does it shows he’s much more than that.

The players have seen several managers (relative newcomers have worked under four, not counting Pochettino) but as a unit, this is new. I like our midfield. Bissouma is a fine player who defends with strength, works hard and has an eye for a forward pass. This applies to the others who prefer that central role, including Hojbjerg, whose passing is better than he is often given credit for, and the excellent Skipp, while Bentacur has the air of man who’s got everything under control. I don’t see any pressing need for another so-called creative midfielder, although handy if someone becomes available, because we have players who make the runs and players who see the openings, whether that’s Kane from deep or Perisic, another canny acquisition, another winner, who after five minutes on Saturday was reminding teammates that, yes, that ball inside the full-back is ON, because I WILL get on the end of it, so please oblige. Or words to that effect.

We also have in Kulusevski one of the most creative players in the division. Central midfield and advanced areas are congested, so coming from out wide as he does has real advantages if, like him, your touch and eye for space is top quality. From that starting position, he has an overview of what’s available and a precious fraction more time, better perhaps than if he were immediately pressured in the middle. We have a real player here, who is bursting with ambition to play for us.

Only last February, Spurs lost at home to Saints, conceding two goals in as many minutes after being 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go. That day, we were unable to break free from their intense high pressing. Later in the same month, Conte chucked his toys out the pram after losing away to Burnley. It feels like a world away. Now, Conte has enough faith in his squad to start the season without the new signings on the field, a massive vote of confidence in players who might otherwise have feared for their place in the side, a shrewd move from a wily motivator.

Regular readers will be bored with one of my favourite refrains of the last decade, or most desperate pleas if you choose to look at it that way, namely Levy’s failure to make the holy trinity of any football club, chairman, coach and director of recruitment, work effectively together. On so many occasions throughout Levy’s tenure, it appears as if they found it impossible even to talk to each other, let alone buy the players we need, and just as importantly sell the ones we don’t.

With Conte, things are different. He’s convinced Levy of the need for experience and proven expertise in a high level and the PL. They’re here and ready to go. We’re also buying players who fit Conte’s system. One harmful effect of managers coming and going is that the next man has to deal with players who don’t fit his system. For too long, we’ve hammered square pegs into round holes, persisting even if they won’t go in. He puts his arm round players who need it, like Sess, who he cuddled with fatherly pride after the last home game, and his faith has had a handsome return already. And remember when we thought the much-vaunted Paratici only grabbed last-minute signings from his old club?

Like I said, seems like a world away. It’s decidedly odd, watching from a distance as United dump any pretence of a transfer plan and go for anyone who becomes available. That’s what we used to do.

Levy feels he is on solid ground because at last, his plans for the stadium and finances are literally paying off. The place is full – over 61000 on Saturday, did I read it’s the second highest crowd at the new ground and for the opening game when people are traditionally on holiday. Also, the ground is firmly established as a venue pre- and post-match. It’s convivial. You can have all the fancy design features you desire, the sound system, the burnished quartz fittings, the brewery, but what works best is the simplest – space. There’s room to meet friends and you can walk round the ground. Each home match brings in revenue on a scale unparalleled in England, and then there’s rugby, NFL and gigs, and Levy is going gaga at the balance sheets.

There’s one thing missing, of course, Conte’s Everest. It’s all very well instilling a winning mentality, actually winning something is of a quite different order. He has shown how he can get into players’ minds to give them confidence, now he has to work his way into those dark nooks and crannies of festering, toxic doubt. To make it ours, the stadium needs new memories, stories of daring and doing, tales of triumph and joy. If anyone can, it’s Antonio.

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12 thoughts on “Conte’s Spurs Off to a Flyer

  1. Excellent reading and totally spot on. I am seeing and hearing a more supportive atmosphere for a longer time at the ground. The lulls are less frequent and we’re hearing some new chants (at last). Can only go from strength to strength!

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  2. I’d nit-pick with just one sentence of your assessment, Alan. I still think we’re light of creative support in central midfield. I’d bracket Hjobjerg, Bissouma, and Skipp together as more defensive midfielders with just Bentancur as the springboard to move things forward quickly. If you take Bents out of the mix that makes things a bit stodgy. For a while I thought Eriksen would be a no-risk option but that’s a moot point now. Anyway, Eriksen tended to disappear in the biggest games and we need someone who is younger and hungrier. But how can we complain when we have a manager who commands the respect of everyone in the Prem? All we need is to shift the deadwood of Lo Celso and N’Dombele and then we’d have everything set up for a decent season. And to think that at this point for the past few years we’d be sat here begging Levy to buy someone…anyone! How’s that working out for you, United?

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    • This question of midfield creativity is interesting. I’m trying to say that in this team, creativity and creating chances comes in a variety of options. Most teams no longer rely on a single player to provide it. Bentancur is as you say excellent at moving it on quickly. Hojbjerg, Skipp and Bissouma could, I think, provide those 10/15 yard passes into players taking up the right positions. If we can find another Eriksen (creative, busy, accurate), I’d be delighted.

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  3. Thanks for the blog and insights, Alan. Good to see the optimism of the summer bear immediate fruit. While Saints were lightweight, we played some very good stuff and made them wilt. I fancy we’ll make a few better teams than Saints pine for the final whistle well before the end, too.

    Having watched a great deal of them for Juve, Kulusevski and Bentancur just needed some confidence, structure and not to be messed about to rediscover form and class. Romero is a Passarella in the making. Tough as teak, but classy and, tbf, a malevolent streak that needs some tempering.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing where Conte can take Spurs in the next couple of seasons, at least, hopefully.

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    • Cheers my friend, let’s enjoy this journey together. Agree – Kulu and Bentancur are flourishing in a system that suits their talents – this is one of Conte’s strengths.

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  4. Our overall prospects are looking good but the upcoming match against Chelsea will be a barometer of what has happened since January and how well we might fare this season. They outplayed us four times last season and how we perform against them at the Bridge will be a better indicator than Southampton. We must show that we have improved against them!

    Great article Alan, thank you.

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  5. Excellent read, thank you. Like the previous commenter, I think we need an attacking midfielder. We will need to change things against teams who play a low block, and we will need variety as teams work out plans to neutralise us.

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  6. Great to hear that you’re enjoying what you’re watching and, even better, putting pen to pper about it, as it t’were! It’s great to hear how the mood at the Lane has changed since our raising from the dead last season, the benefits that employing the right people in the positions that matter and how the fickle Spurs regulars are responding so joyfully. Given Tuchel’s apparent staff retention problems, this bodes well for definite validation on Sunday of our boys’ improvement. Yeah! COYS!!

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