On Sunday, Antonio Conte returns to the place the place his worst fears about Tottenham had been realised for the primary time. It was significantly galling for a former Chelsea supervisor that the dimensions of his process was made clear at Stamford Bridge of all locations, because the Blues eased to a 2-0 win within the Carabao Cup semifinal, first leg in early January.
The scoreline wasn’t significantly savage, however Spurs conceded two dreadful targets and did not register a shot of any description till the fiftieth minute in a meek give up that left Conte unwilling to tug any punches in his post-match evaluation. “There’s an vital hole, an vital distinction, there is a large job to do to retrieve the state of affairs,” he mentioned in assessing the space between Spurs and the highest sides.
However the chastening nature of that defeat to Chelsea — adopted by an equally insipid showings within the return leg and a Premier League defeat to the identical opponents later within the month — started a collection of public utterances which raised questions over whether or not he would even stick round. After dropping to Burnley on Feb. 23, Conte publicly doubted whether or not he was the best man for the job.
Even after pulling off an unbelievable fourth-place end by thrashing Norwich 5-0 on the ultimate day of the season, he nonetheless refused to decide to remaining as Tottenham head coach amid considerations the membership wouldn’t again him to the extent he felt crucial to show Spurs into title challengers.
Conte is aware of sufficient about London to “thoughts the hole.” Optimism that this “hole” between them and the highest golf equipment is lastly closing comes from six summer season signings, a full preseason working below the Italian and an encouraging 4-1 win over Southampton on the opening day. However Sunday’s journey to Chelsea represents the primary assembly of the Premier League’s conventional Large Six this season, and also will supply the clearest indication but whether or not Conte’s rebuild is on observe.
Each Conte’s brilliance and his volatility are nicely documented. The 53-year-old is an elite supervisor, however has by no means spent greater than three consecutive seasons on the similar membership, usually leaving in acrimonious circumstances. Juventus had been Serie A champions when he give up after sooner or later of preseason forward of 2014-15 following disagreements over the membership’s switch technique. He was sacked from Chelsea in 2018 after falling out with the hierarchy and several other senior gamers, once more over the path of the membership. Conte departed Inter Milan final Might in opposition to an unloading of prime stars triggered by monetary issues associated partially to COVID-19.
He did win 4 Serie A titles and the 2016-17 Premier League with Chelsea throughout this span, however his flamable character at all times appeared an unbelievable match with Tottenham, a membership that has lengthy prioritised monetary prudence and long-term planning over short-term, boom-and-bust below the watchful eye of chairman Daniel Levy.
Conte’s unstable rhetoric round final season successfully constructed to a two-day assembly in Italy because the summer season started and, along with the membership’s soccer managing director, Fabio Paratici, they finalised a listing of summer season targets. Important backing was required. Earlier managers — maybe most clearly Mauricio Pochettino — grew to become disillusioned when failing to obtain the help they felt essential to take Spurs to the highest, assembly a brick wall constructed from monetary warning. This time, it was totally different. Levy and the bulk shareholders, ENIC, agreed to assist realise Conte’s imaginative and prescient for the longer term. It was a big second.
February’s departure of the membership’s longstanding director of technical efficiency, Steve Hitchen, was an indication of Paratici’s rising affect, however right here, emboldened by Conte guiding Spurs again into the Champions League, was an actual sea change in Tottenham’s willingness to help their head coach.
Beforehand, gamers had been signed with potential and a clearly outlined future switch market worth. This time, they had been largely being focused for the right here and now. The arrival of 33-year-old wing-back Ivan Perisic embodies this shift greater than every other signing. Spurs introduced a £150m money injection from ENIC that is helped finance a spending spree with Perisic, Richarlison, Fraser Forster, Yves Bissouma, Djed Spence and Clement Lenglet arriving on the membership.
This exercise has generated a way of momentum that quashed any considerations England captain Harry Kane may search for to depart the membership — having tried to power a transfer away final summer season — and, considerably, most of those signings had been acquired early within the window, giving Conte a full preseason to work along with his new gamers.
Conte’s coaching periods are infamously powerful. An agent of 1 participant on the membership advised ESPN about double periods involving tens of shuttle runs on the finish. One other expressed shock that Conte selected to work his gamers so exhausting in a session open to the cameras in Korea that Kane was sick by the facet of the pitch, whereas others together with Son Heung-Min may hardly stand throughout a brutal working drill. However the gamers have totally purchased into Conte’s strategies, partially seduced by his observe document, and respectful of the extent of management he clearly enjoys having been wholeheartedly supported by Levy within the switch market.
ESPN has additionally been made conscious of different knowledge their coaches are utilizing to elucidate the necessity to enhance participant health, together with the excessive variety of late targets Tottenham concede. If final season’s Premier League matches are damaged down into 10-minute blocks, with every of the 9 segments assigned an combination rating based mostly on targets scored and conceded in these minutes, Liverpool and Manchester Metropolis are the one sides ending with a constructive rating in all of them. Spurs had constructive internet scores within the first eight, however in these essential ultimate 10 minutes of matches, they scored seven and conceded 10, leaving them on -3. In contrast, Metropolis had been +15 and Liverpool +14 within the ultimate 10 minutes of matches final season; Chelsea had been +8.
There are a plethora of causes to elucidate this, not least the way through which Metropolis specifically put on groups down with their degree of possession, however it’s one indicator which Conte is demanding better depth from his gamers for the whole recreation — additionally they fell behind in 17 league matches final season, a determine larger than Arsenal (15), Liverpool (12), Chelsea (11) and Metropolis (eight). Mixed with Conte’s devotion to a 3-4-3 system, the gamers have been left below no illusions concerning the bodily and tactical expectations positioned upon them this season. Though it nonetheless stays a tall order on paper to match Metropolis and Liverpool, maybe the most important doubt over Spurs stays their potential to implement what’s being requested of them below stress.
The “Spursy” tag — a derogatory time period basically that means “to falter with the profitable line in sight” — is one the membership have discovered tough to shake. They had been excellent for almost all of the Pochettino period however in the end ended his five-year stint with no trophy to indicate for the progress made. Their final success of any description stays the 2008 League Cup.
James Olley debates how Richarlison may match into Antonio Conte’s plans at Tottenham.
Jose Mourinho’s appointment as his successor was made with the concept in thoughts of fostering a siege mentality to galvanise the group, however he by no means achieved it. Nuno Espirito Santo’s 17-game tenure was a quick because it was unmemorable, and so Conte now finds himself charged with accountability of fixing this mindset. When requested in Might whether or not he knew what “Spursy'” meant, he mentioned: “I’m attempting to chop this.”
The one manner is to win silverware. A smaller step on that path is enhancing Tottenham’s document away on the conventional Large Six. They’ve misplaced 37 of their final 60 league video games away to Arsenal, Liverpool, Metropolis, Manchester United and Chelsea, profitable solely 9. Though Spurs beat Metropolis and drew at Liverpool below Conte, they’ve received only one league recreation at Chelsea since 1990 — a 3-1 victory in April 2018.
“Clearly if you face that form of opponent [in Chelsea] it is a good second to evaluate your self,” captain Hugo Lloris mentioned after their opening-day win over Southampton.
Chelsea might have the confirmed pedigree however their summer season switch enterprise is way from full, and a brand new defence is bedding in after the departures of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. There are definitely worse moments to play them.
In contrast, Tottenham have loved a extra settled preseason, constructing properly from the final. Spurs improved significantly within the second half of final season, profitable 10 of their final 14 league video games to indicate a degree of type, which prompted Conte to counsel he wished they might have one other crack at Chelsea quickly to see the place they had been at.
This weekend, he’ll lastly get his likelihood.