Days after a dramatic postponement of the North London Derby, Antonio Conte’s Tottenham side travelled to Leicester. Conte and his Spurs side are yet to lose in the Premier League and for the first 20 minutes of the game vs the Foxes, you could see why. There was a noticeable change in attacking intent, hunger, and even desire in the side, from what it was over the last 12 months. The most striking example of that hunger and desire was seen in the way in which Spurs got their 3 points.
A late double from “Super Sub” Steven Bergwijn – who actually could have been at Ajax over the weekend, but now is considered an “unsellable asset”. In any case, it was a win that they truly deserved given the amount of high quality chances they created and the spirit they showed on the field till the last minute – something Conte has always asked of his players since day 1.
Conte has often been honest about his review of the squad. He has not been one to sugar coat the quality. But he has effectively managed to string together a squad that has started to perform to their abilities, while also rejuvenating a few who had lost their way. Spurs fought out a hard earned last minute win for two Premier League games in a row. They had managed to sneak a last minute victory on New Years day at Watford, where Davinson Sanchez scored a late header. He is another player who has really improved this season. To be fair to him, he looked solid in the first few weeks under Nuno as well, but his consistency and partnership with Dier and Davies is really making Conte’s preferred style of 3 central defenders at the back, tick!
Going by Opta’s performance Index, he is not too far behind Antonio Rudiger, who plays in a similar system for Chelsea. Sanchez is on 66, while Rudiger is on 69 (Keep in mind Rudiger has played more minutes than Sanchez!) And both bring different things to the table, but have been key to how their sides perform. For instance, Sanchez ranks higher on Passing accuracy, Blocks, Goals conceded and yellow cards awarded, but you can put the passing accuracy down the fact that Sanchez loves making short passes compared to Rudiger who plays more long balls. The German is also better on Aerial Duels, but is behind on metrics such as Ground Duels or Interceptions.
Not just Sanchez, but Conte has managed to make the entire Spurs defence look tougher. They had conceded 16 goals in 10 matches under Nuno, whereas, under Conte, Spurs have conceded only 7 goals in 9 league games. From averaging 1.6 goals per game, to averaging under 1. This string of defensive solidity has rubbed off on the fans. I for one, look forward to Spurs games now, with a new found confidence, knowing that the team is not likely to let in silly goals every game. Of course, the FA Cup fixture was annoying. One could say it was an aberration. Nevertheless, in the Premier League, since Conte took over, Spurs rank 3rd for goals conceded per game. It has been an almost Herculean effort to transform a crop of players who were known to be leaky at the back under their predecessors!
A stat the compliments the defensive toughness, the hunger, and the desire that Conte demands, is Distance Covered. And Conte has ensured that his Spurs side outran their opponents in all of his games in charge so far! One of those games was against Liverpool! Spurs are not only boasting a 100% record in this stat under Conte, but are also occupying the top spot for covering most distance in a league game (121.1 Km vs Norwich City).
We’ve also have also seen massive strides of improvement as we move up the field. Under Nuno, Spurs averaged 0.9 goals scored per game. Now they average 1.9 per game. They also create a lot more high quality chances. Their expected goals or xG under Nuno was 1, but now its 2.3! Their xG against Leicester was the highest in the division this year! (4.25 as per Understat). Lucas Moura and Harry Kane have significantly contributed to this! Both have been exceptional under Conte! Lucas has become an undisputed starter. His vision, quick pace, and ability to find a way out of tight spaces is what attracted Spurs to sign him. They are now truly seeing the best of Lucas in a Spurs shirt.
Harry Kane had a dismal start to the season and most put it down to a lack of motivation after a failed transfer request. But under Conte, he’s showing his value. He is the top scorer for Spurs in all competitions since Conte took over, scoring 4 goals in his last 5 Premier League games! Under Nuno, he had scored 1 goal in 9 appearances in the league!
Having your defence at the top of their game is great. Having your only striker being his talismanic self is also great! But “Great” is not perfection. And Conte demands perfection. Undoubtedly, there is a lot more Spurs can improve on. The January transfer window gives them that opportunity! And if rumours are to be believed Adama Traore is on his way to London.
While Spurs only just signed Emerson Royal for 25M Euros, he lacks in quality as an attacking wing-back. His crossing especially needs a lot of work. Right wing-back might be a completely new position for Adama, but he has the necessary skillsets to succeed in it. The prime qualities of Adama are his pace, ball carrying ability and finding that cutting edge pass into the box. Conte previously transformed Victor Moses to a world beater of a RWB at Chelsea. Adama has all the attacking qualities to succeed in that template. He would be a massive signing for Conte if it gets done in time!
Conte would also love to get a man in the midfield. As of now, the Spurs midfield consists of Oliver Skipp, Harry Winks, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and perennially injured Giovani Lo Celso. Predominantly, Conte prefers to start with Skipp and Højbjerg! While they have been effective in giving stability and solidity that Tottenham needed, they are extremely similar! A ball carrying Box to Box midfielder would be an amazing signing as that would add another dimension to their build-up play.
They need a player who could compliment either of Skipp or Højbjerg, while also being a gun in defensive duties! Its not a surprise that Spurs want to accelerate signing Frank Kessie and not wait till the summer to get him on free, as they are bound to face more competition! Japhet Tanganga is probably on his way to AC Milan on loan. Maybe Paratici finds a way to get the Kessie deal over the line as well.
But as you can guess, all of it boils down to funds. Spurs will be looking to move on players like Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele, and Matt Doherty in the January Premier League window! Unfortunately for them, there isn’t significant movement on those fronts. PSG are interested in Ndombele, but there are complicated road blocks for that deal to go through. Tottenham want PSG to pay all his wages when on loan and insert an obligation to buy! While PSG seem okay with these, they are also trying to orchestrate a player swap, although none of their players want to leave.
With all this happening behind the scenes, Conte is working hard on the upcoming big clash in the Premier League! Its a London Derby! And one that would be extremely special for him. It’s a game vs Chelsea. He didn’t have the best of results when he visited his former club for the semi-final in the League Cup. But given that his side are purring in the league, it is a fresh opportunity to add pressure on the Champions League spots!
Spurs are 1 point behind 4th placed West Ham and 8 behind Chelsea. However, they have 4 games in hand on Chelsea! A win on Sunday will cut this gap to 5, with 4 games in hand! There are many incentives for Conte to demand his players to dig deep and grind it out! Conte has had some good news in terms of personnel. Hugo Lloris signed an extension and is bound to be in a great frame of mind. He also stated that Dier is fit and ready to go! A massive boost now as Dier will take back his position of being the leader of the defence. A position that looked really flimsy under Mourinho, is looking solid under Conte!
To sum it all up, Conte has had a fantastic start to Premier League life at Spurs. Indeed, a lot of those games are games you would expect Spurs to win. But it is the manner and mentality in which Spurs are going about their business that has looked most impressive since Conte took charge. He is the first manager in Spurs’ history to remain unbeaten in their first 9 games. And I am sure he would like to make it 10 and hopefully more.
Written by Alankrith Shankar | Feature Image by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
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