Spurs In For a Conte Shake-up

Context is everything. The first defeat of the season with one Champions League home victory tucked away safely, third in the Premier League table and a point off the top with only five goals conceded will do, for now. It’s something to build on, and this is a Spurs team that Conte is building, by no means the finished article despite us being named top four candidates. As I said last time, all of us, are itching for success and can see the potential Conte and his squad offer, but we can help most by getting behind the team and showing some patience.

The context of the defeat in Lisbon, though, is that we’ve had this coming for a while now. We stayed on top against Fulham, a good all-round performance, but there have been extended periods in other recent games – W Ham, Marseille, Wolves – where our football has been stilted and opponents have been able to stifle our attacking play. ‘Starting slowly’ has become ‘not getting anywhere’, or ‘letting it slip’. Conte’s strategy leans heavily on pressing home our advantage when we do get on top, yet we’ve not managed this, certainly not last night, so we’re left with the frustration of another missed opportunity to win a match that was there for the taking.

Last night we looked jaded, not physically but in terms of ideas. We played familiar patterns, in to Harry, space out wide, yet nothing came of it. I’d have liked to have seen more subs to freshen it up. Teams have sussed us, so we’ve become easy to counter. Extra bodies in midfield where we have only two. Press to force errors as we play out and restrict Kane’s time and space, then limit the options he has available by cutting off passing routes. Once again, Emerson demonstrated the futility of creating a system where he is the spare man because he cannot be relied upon for end product, be it a cross, pass or shot. Reliability is a vital ability for Conte’s style.

The problems with such predictability is that key individuals, Harry and Sonny, bless them, are off the boil, so those moments of inspiration that lift us from the workmanlike are few and far between. There’s no flow or rhythm. Breathless anticipation as we break replaced with dull resignation as the ball flies off a boot or a defender gets back because of an extra touch. We’re relying on Harry more than ever as the best striker and best midfielder all in one. That tell-tale extra touch or over-ambitious pass, he knows where Sonny is but can’t rely on his mate, Richarlison still tuning into the wavelength, although he knows how to get on the end of crosses.

Individuals not on it, but it’s a team thing, always a team thing. If Harry is being harried and hurried, it’s because too often he becomes isolated with limited options to make a pass. Teammates should do more to help out. Similarly, I like Hojbjerg and Bentancur a lot, although not everybody does, but last night they stayed in a pattern that clearly wasn’t effective rather than changing it up.

Making changes from a position of relative strength is a good place to be. We’re much stronger than when he had to do something last season – think Burnley away. I see Conte got the players in for training this morning – he really cannot tolerate defeat. But he has his way of wanting things done, with entrenched shape and patterns, so it may be more about injecting some pace and drive into what we have without losing the defensive solidity he prizes. Our squad gives options to refresh things, with players surely keen to come in and make their mark.

Also, it’s early days but this season is going to be a long haul. This is another reason for disappointment after Lisbon. Two wins or a draw and a win would have put us in a strong position early on in a group where every game presents a challenge, thus easing the pressure in the longer term. However, we have time to make that up.

Leicester on Saturday is big game, an opportunity to reassert ourselves before the break against a failing side, whose manager will be all too well aware of the way to play against us. Starting from the back, Lenglet’s passing from the back is welcome, and I would inject Spence’s pace on our right side, although Conte doesn’t seem so keen on him and Barnes on Leicester’s left is a danger, so Docherty may be a more reliable option. Bissouma in, Skippy too but again I don’t see Conte making two changes in that key position. Kulu for Son, who deserves a break to rediscover his touch. Sess may replace Perisic. That still means a lot goes through Harry, it will be interesting to see how Conte adapts, if at all, to that particular problem, or indeed where Harry can get a rest.

6 thoughts on “Spurs In For a Conte Shake-up

  1. Right on point, Alan. We’ve dodged a few bullets lately thanks to one or two stellar individual performances, even though it’s still not ‘clicking’. But yesterday everyone was flat and the Champions League is no place to keep your fingers crossed. I thought we were unfortunate to lose and deserved a draw but football isn’t fair, is it? And at this level we need more devil and threat from an attacking midfielder – which we don’t have. Bentancur played very deep which stopped anything through the middle and maybe we should give credit to Lison for the way they handled Harry, in all senses. I don’t think it will happen but I hope Conte makes the changes that are necessary to get back to the energy required to survive in the Prem. Son’s contributions are falling away and our current front three on performance should be Kane, Kulu and Richarlison. If Son is going to sulk it should be on the bench and not on the pitch.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Royal should never be allowed put on a spurs jersey again clueless and lazy.can’t see the point in signing players and then let them go stale on the bench,kudu has to be a regular starter in all games


  3. Thanks Alan. Yes, we do need patience. However, we are not using the squad, so when they do come in as starters it is asking a lot for them to suddenly turn it on. For example, I wasn’t as immediately impressed as others by Lenglet the other week – I know he’s a very good player, but didn’t think he was transformative vis a vis Ben Davies. But surely, having gone on about the need and been backed to buy players to strengthen the squad and not even use them off the bench when we were pretty stodgy… Conte has the patience of Job in game with his starting XI.

    I think we got a little complacent and thought we wouldn’t lose as Sporting rarely threatened, but it’s football, you leave yourself to the mercy of a set piece, bounce of the ball.

    We are in a much better place than last season, and set up to be more threatening more often with better players than under Mourinho, but certainly some echoes of when we were top further into the season under him.

    I imagine he’s waiting for the mad period after the International break before letting loose the squad, but imo he needed to do more in game to change things last night and on some other occasions. Fine magins, defend a 90th min corner and 0-0 away in CL group game to a decent side, not the worst outcome by any means. Nice to see Edwards making a good career, and that run was off your seat frightening.

    It’s okay having a namesake and “Brother” leading Spurs, but he annoys me sometimes.


  4. I don’t get this continued observation that our two are being outnumbered in midfield—sure, in a diagram. But when we defend, we defend 5-4-1 with two tucking in on flanks to make up the numbers. I’ve even seen 4 in midfield (with the WBs making up the 5 behind them) when opposition has ball at halfway line. But to actually play 3 in midfield means changing Conte’s 3-4-3 attacking formation. Anyway, while it’s early doors and a little “meh” so far, I look forward to seeing the squad being used more. Or, is Conte’s achilles’ heel his inflexibility—I never really studied him before. Any thoughts?


  5. Had our best chances not fallen to Emerson maybe we score and win or not lose the game, who knows…?

    There are options all over the place. Perisic could replace Son or play RWB with Sess coming in on the left. Richarlison up top with Kane at 10. Deki in at 10. I’m sure Conte knows all this and I trust him but you wonder if a gamble may have seen us nick all 3 points?


  6. Alan your latest piece is great at putting everything in context. I seem to see even more factors in the “context mix”. Call me a conspiracy theorist but here is more context for Conte’s apparent reluctance to experiment/throw in other options, my thoughts:

    Fixtures of 1st 5 PL games was almost diabolical, 1st 5 matches had “almost all of our boggie teams” from last season..picture Spurs bottom of league and Arsenal, top after 5 matches. Fixtures for the 2 North London rivals designed accidentally to have AC run out of town???.

    Then an un-patriotic fixture programming by the EPL of a CL on Wednesday, then a Saturday PL game against City then CL on the Tuesday…that’s crazy!! (They almost pulled it off)

    In my books, I’d say AC has been against the ropes, running a gauntlet, pummeled and has come out pretty good at the other end..

    Barcelona 0-2 Bavarians is not the end of the world for them…get a hold of your selves!.


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