Credit: AFP

Antonio Conte and Tottenham Hotspur are a weird match but come next season, madness could happen in London under the Italian.  

It’s a cold and rainy evening at the Etihad stadium on February 19, 2022, and Riyad Mahrez’s impeccable spot kick in the 92nd minute has all but ensured a point for Premier League champions Manchester City against Tottenham Hotspur.

But, when all hope seems lost for the Lilywhites, new recruit Dejan Kulusevski makes a powerful and marauding run in the 95th minute, floating in a cross that meets the head of Harry Kane, a man previously wanted by the PL champions, and the ball ends up in the back of the net.

Spurs 3-2 City

The away crowd at the Etihad goes into absolute delirium and there is utter pandemonium at the home of the champions. 

One man, who watched from the sidelines, was at the centre of this madness.

ANTONIO CONTE

You must be wondering why I’ve gone waxing lyrical like a cheap copy of Peter Drury about a great but pretty regular Premier League game involving Spurs and Man City.

Let me tell you why.

Nomenclature is often the cornerstone of discussions in sport and certain words get associated with clubs in football that are almost synonymous to their identity.

Tottenham Hotspur have often been clobbered by fans and pundits (read Roy Keane) for being ‘bottlers’ and not having the ‘winning mentality in their DNA.’

Let’s face it, they’re a weird match, Conte and Spurs, aren’t they? If they were a couple, we’d probably be going:

“He is demanding, she is lazy. He is ambitious, she doesn’t care. He goes crazy, she’s too nice.”

Right? Wrong.

Sometimes the phrase ‘opposites attract’ can become true in places other than magnetic fields. Keep reading on to know why that could be the case with Spurs and Conte. 

An Italian Job in the summer

The summer transfer window is in its full flow and while you might have expected Manchester United to be the most active club apart from usual suspects Manchester City, Liverpool and maybe even Chelsea or Arsenal, it’s not the case.

Tottenham Hotspur have signed Ivan Perišić from Inter Milan and Yves Bissouma from Brighton, making for two great signings. But they are far from done because Messrs Antonio Conte & Fabio Paratici mean business.

Spurs continue to hunt the market to add to Conte’s army of soldiers. Inter Milan’s Alessandro Bastoni, Everton’s Richarlison, Leeds winger Raphinha and Middlesbrough’s Djed Spence are targets as well.

With Manchester City signing Erling Haaland and Liverpool signing Darwin Nunez, the general consensus seems to be that those two will be at it again for the title.

That could well be the case but as far as the third position is concerned, Antonio Conte’s Spurs will be a thorn in everyone’s side and there is a lot of merit to that argument.

Let’s evaluate.

Antonio Conte – The Perfect Appointment

After a disappointing start to the 2021/2022 season under Nuno Espírito Santo, Daniel Levy decided to relieve the Portuguese of his duties, and Spurs went into the market to look for a new manager.

Antonio Conte, in his head, was preparing for a job at Manchester United, who were in woeful form and had just sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. A few weeks later, Manchester United decided against recruiting the Italian, much to the latter’s chagrin; Spurs swooped in and appointed Antonio Conte as the new gaffer.  

Conte’s impact has been nothing short of spectacular. Spurs have gone from being an ordinary mid-table side to finishing 4th in the league.

The numbers reveal the story:

  Games Wins Draws Losses Points PPG GD League Position
Before 10 5 0 5 15 1.5 -7 9th
After 28 17 5 6 56 2.0 +36 3rd
The Conte Impact: Spurs’ points after Antonio’s arrival

Under Conte, Spurs’ points per game ratio improved significantly, jumping from 1.5 to 2.0, making them the third best side in the league after Manchester City and Liverpool (we’ll call them the Big Two, hereon).

While they did end up finishing 4th in the league behind Chelsea, that was a result of their poor start to the season under Nuno Espírito Santo. Since Conte has taken over, only the Big Two have amassed more points than Tottenham.

Antonio Conte’s touchdown antics are far away from being tutored or coached, they are a reflection of what he brings to any side he coaches – fire & a dogged mentality.

More Mentality and Less Mayonnaise

Fire and mentality aren’t the only things the Italian brought to Spurs. Within just his first week at the club, Conte told the staff that there was a problem with the nutrition. After this, Conte made it abundantly clear that there would be no unhealthy or heavy foods at the club, with ketchup, mayonnaise, oil, and butter all banned.

The Italian was determined to get his players in their peak physical condition. The results of Conte’s fierce micro-management were almost instant; Spurs picked up 6 wins and 3 draws in his first 10 games in charge.

Within just a handful of games, Spurs had gone from covering the least distance per game in the Premier League under Nuno to the most.  

Most importantly, however, in appointing Conte, Spurs got their hands on one of the best league managers in world football. Conte is a serial winner, and his track record in the league shows us nothing less.

Season Club League Finish Points Wins Draws Losses PPG
2011/2012 Juventus 1st 84 23 15 0 2.21
2012/2013 Juventus 1st 87 27 6 5 2.29
2013/2014 Juventus 1st 102 33 3 2 2.68
2016/2017 Chelsea 1st 93 30 3 5 2.45
2017/2018 Chelsea 5th 70 21 7 10 1.84
2019/2020 Inter Milan 2nd 82 24 10 4 2.16
2020/2021 Inter Milan 1st 91 28 7 3 2.39
(Above)  Conte’s league record in full seasons.

As is evident, Conte’s record in the league has been impeccable. Barring the 2017/2018 season with Chelsea, his sides have achieved 80+ points in every other season, and his average points per season stands at an impressive 87. What’s more, the Italian has won 5 out a possible 7 league titles this decade, cementing his title as one of the best league managers in the modern era.

Come next season, Conte’s Spurs will be a force to be reckoned with and they could be the leading contenders for a top three finish. There is a lot more substance to this premise than hype.

Look at it closely, Manchester United under Erik Ten Hag (even if they have a world class transfer window) will be an unknown entity next season while Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea are going to have an overhaul.

If Spurs buy well and Conte’s tactics come to fruition, Tottenham could have their best season since Pochettino.

Top 3 after Top 4 – A realistic target

Conte recently admitted that had Daniel Levy said he expected Champions League qualification when he appointed him, his response would have been: “Are you joking?”

Fast forward seven months, and that’s exactly what Spurs achieved. The feat seemed almost impossible when Conte took over, and even with just a handful of games left towards the end of the season, Spurs never looked like the favourites to clinch a top 4 finish. But somehow, Conte’s men found a spark, pulling off the miracle and sealing their place in the top 4 with a convincing 5-0 win against Norwich on the final day of the season.

The importance of finishing in the top 4 cannot be understated. For one, it gave Conte and his men a taste of some form of tangible success. The achievement is also a huge psychological boost, especially given the fact that Spurs overthrew their fierce North London rivals Arsenal to clinch that all important spot. Finishing above the Gunners means everything to the fans, and the achievement has certainly lifted spirits at the club.

More importantly, finishing in the top 4 opens up Spurs to a whole new set of players in the market. According to reports, £150m has been set aside for Conte this summer, and with Spurs making the cut for Champions League football, they will be able to attract players of the highest quality.

Finishing in the top 4 is not merely a step into Europe, but rather a stepping stone to future success in the Conte era at Spurs.

Heroic Harry and the ever rising Son

Much of last summer transfer window saw Spurs fans begrudgingly preparing to lose their captain and hero Harry Kane to Manchester City. Tottenham were almost set to have their dynamic forward duo reduced to just one good Son.

Despite that Gary Neville interview and missing training, Harry Kane ended up staying at Spurs and under Conte, him and Son have blossomed.

Kane has registered 17 goals and 9 assists in the league while Son has an impressive 23 goals (a league high) and 7 assists to his name. We are looking at arguably the most lethal pair up top in the league, and both will most definitely be at the centre of any success Spurs taste moving forward.

It’s interesting to note that before Conte’s arrival, Kane had just 1 goal and 1 assist in the league in 10 games under Nuno. In fact, at the time of Conte’s arrival, Spurs were in the midst of an embarrassing shot-on-target drought in the Premier League that had lasted almost 4 hours. After his arrival, both Kane and Son were virtually reborn, and some would even say elevated to a whole new level.

Kane himself was surprised by how quickly his fitness had improved under the Italian. At last, he had the world class manager he was craving, and his output was evidence of his fresh ambition and direction under Conte.

Likewise, Son improved significantly, and since Conte’s arrival, the Korean has recorded the most goals in the league with an impressive 19. The second name on this list? Harry Kane, with 16.

While bringing fresh and exciting players to the club is important, what’s equally important is securing the services of these two machines for another few seasons. And Spurs seem to have got that nailed down early in the window. In fact, Kane has issued a statement to Manchester City and Liverpool’s new signings Erling Haaland and Darwin Nuñéz.

“The battle for the golden boot is always tough,” said Kane.

“The Premier League has produced some top strikers around the world for a number of years now.

“Every season I’ve been playing it’s always been a tough battle to win that golden boot and it’s no different — you expect the top strikers to want to play in the Premier League. With those two new signings, that’s going to be the case.

“It helps me as a player to have good competition, it drives me to improve. I look forward to the challenge.”

The Englishman is fired up, and while he may have tried to force an exit from Spurs in the past, he now appears settled and satisfied under Conte. Kane has got his mojo back, and that’s an ominous sign for opponents.

Tottenham’s Transfer Tango for Squad Depth

The best managers in the world need a high-class squad to succeed, ask Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. Spurs have always been active in the transfer market but they seem to be rejuvenated under Conte and are not trotting about this summer.

The signings of Dejan Kulusevki and Rodrigo Bentancur in January added fresh quality to the squad.

Look at the former’s impact and the story it tells.

Kulusevski registered 5 goals and 8 assists in 18 appearances and immersed himself comfortably into Tottenham’s attack.

What’s even more exciting for Spurs fans is the fact that Conte has found a way to get a front 3 of Kane, Son, and Kulusevski linking up perfectly. All 3 players have fired under Conte, and more importantly, have excellent chemistry.

Go back to the match mentioned at the start of this piece and see who’s at the heart of the winner against City – Kulusevski.  

During the summer transfer window, the London club have made what could go on to be the best ‘pound for pound’ signing in Yves Bissouma. The Malian is a much-needed addition to a midfield that lacks depth and dynamism.

In the past, Conte has stressed on the fact that Spurs had made “strange” signings, like Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso. He added that the club needed to be bringing in players that were well-equipped to deal with the physicality and rigor of the Premier League. Bissouma is exactly that type of player.

The former Brighton midfielder adds fresh competition to the midfield, something Conte has always demanded.

Bissouma is not only solid in defence, but he is also an elite dribbler and carrier of the ball, making him a box-to-box midfielder along with being a progressive enforcer. In addition, he is excellent at combating the opposition press and manoeuvring the ball in tight spaces. The 25-year- old rarely gives the ball away and is swift in picking up loose balls and winning back possession.

A Conte side always thrives on quick counter attacking football and it’s no surprise that he’s cherry-picked Bissouma for fast transitions. Simply put, Bissouma is a Conte midfielder, and a relishing prospect for Spurs fans.

 

 

(Above) Bissouma’s numbers show incredible quality.

Spurs’ first signing of the summer, Ivan Perisic, is a seasoned and versatile footballer who has played with the crème de la crème of European football. He brings to the squad a much-needed character with depth and experience.

The Croatian can function anywhere down the left flank, as a wingback, in left midfield, and even as a left winger. His most natural position, however, is as a left wingback in a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3, and this is exactly where Conte is likely to deploy him. Going forward, Perišić is one of the best wingbacks in the world, and his statistics, although they do tend to go under the radar, show nothing less.

 

 

(Above) Ivan Perisic’s number will excite Spurs fans.

Defensive Defiance

Conte is known for the emphasis he places on a rigid defence and the proof is in the pudding.

After his arrival, Spurs conceded just 24 goals in the league out of a possible 28 games, the third best record in PL after the Big Two.

At the heart of this defence solidity under Conte is Cristian Romero, whom Spurs signed from Atalanta last summer. The Argentinian has led from the front, boasting some exceptional statistics in his first season in the league.

Statistic Per 90 Percentile
Tackles won 2.20 98
Successful pressures 5.52 96
Blocks 2.44 90
Interceptions 2.78 91
Dribbles completed 0.44 86
Progressive Carries 3.86 77
(Above) Cristian Romero in the Premier League (2021/2022)

Romero, on most occasions, was accompanied by Eric Dier and Ben Davies in defence. The latter has been reborn under Conte while operating as a left-centre-back. Dier, too, flourished under Conte, and has been the most consistent player in defence, playing 35 games in the league last season.

Although this defence seems sturdy, Spurs are in the hunt for some fresh faces, with Alessandro Bastoni and Djed Spence identified as key targets. The former is a born leader and one of the best left-footed centre backs in the world.

Conte, according to reports, wants a quality left footed centre-back because of the difference it would make to the build-up play, and Bastoni is exactly the player he needs.

Such reinforcements in defence would also mean that Cristian Romero, arguably Tottenham’s best defender, can finally move to the centre, where he operated regularly for Atalanta. The Argentinian has currently been playing as a right centre back, with Dier playing through the middle. Romero’s most natural position, however, is the one occupied by the Englishman, and Conte will want to have his best defender in a position through which he can add the most value to the team.

Regardless of whom Spurs end up signing in defence, one can be assured that Conte will have this defence performing at peak levels next season. It’s early days in the market, but Fabio Paratici and co have begun scouting some special warriors for Conte.

Momentum and Morale

A great squad on paper guarantees you nothing, ask Manchester United. However, marry a great squad with work ethic and a world class tactician, you have a real team. Although the sample size for evaluation is really small, it seems like Antonio Conte has established himself as the proverbial Boss.

Add to the existing squad the new signings and a pumped-up Conte, Spurs will mean business this season.

The club has had a spectacular start to the summer window, and should Conte’s demands be met, there’s no reason why we should rule out a Spurs title charge next season.

Yes, a title charge, and I said ‘charge’ not a ‘challenge.’ You know what I mean. They are after all, Tottenham Hotspur and the Big Two are miles ahead of them.

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