Conte’s revitalized Spurs face their first big test in the London derby at Chelsea

On Sunday, Antonio Conte returned to where his worst fears about Tottenham first came true. It was particularly annoying for the former Chelsea boss that the scale of his task was evident at Stamford Bridge from all places as the Blues lost 2-0 in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final early January.

The result was not particularly brutal, but Tottenham conceded two gruesome goals and failed to score a shot of any description until the 50th minute in a sweet surrender that left Conte reluctant to pull shots in his post-game rating. “There’s a big gap, a big difference, there’s a huge amount of work to be done to restore the situation,” he said as he assessed the distance between Tottenham and the teams.

Conte had just eight weeks on the job and had already predicted a draw for Liverpool and seven wins in his first 12 games.

But the disciplinary nature of that loss to Chelsea – which was followed by equally stinging performances in the second leg and the Premier League defeat to the same opponents later in the month – sparked a series of public statements that raised questions as to whether he would. . After the loss to Burnley on February 23, Conte openly doubted he was the right person for the job.

Even after finishing an improbable fourth in thrashing Norwich 5-0 on the final day of the season, he still refused to commit to remaining as Spurs manager, fearing the club would not support him as much as they felt they needed. Make Tottenham a title contender.

Conte knows enough about London to “care about the gap”. The optimism that this ‘gap’ between them and top clubs is finally closing comes from six summer signings, a full preparatory spell under the Italian and encouraging a 4-1 victory over Southampton on the opening day. But Sunday’s trip to Chelsea marks the Big Six’s traditional first meeting in the Premier League this season, and will also provide the clearest indication yet if Conte’s rebuild is on track.

Conte’s outburst and rises are well documented. The 53-year-old is an elite manager, but he hasn’t spent more than three consecutive seasons at the same club, often leaving under difficult circumstances. Juventus were Serie A champions when they resigned after a day of pre-season preparation for the 2014-15 season following disagreements over the club’s transfer strategy. He was sacked by Chelsea in 2018 after a row with the hierarchy and several top players, once again over the direction of the club. Conte left Inter Milan last May facing an offload of top stars due to financial problems partly linked to COVID-19.

He won four Serie A titles and the 2016-17 Premier League with Chelsea during that time, but his fiery personality always seemed unlikely with Tottenham, a club that prioritized financial prudence and forward planning. long-term to short-term boom and bust under the watchful eye of Chairman Daniel Levy.

Conte’s worried rhetoric about last season actually built on a two-day meeting in Italy earlier in the summer, and they, along with the club’s director of football, Fabio Barracci, finalized their list summer goals. A lot of support is needed. Former managers – perhaps most notably Mauricio Pochettino – were left disappointed when they failed to secure the backing they felt they needed to lead Spurs to the top, encountering a brick wall built by financial prudence. This time it was different. Levy and its majority shareholder, ENIC, have agreed to help realize Conti’s vision for the future. It was an important moment.

The departure of the club’s longtime technical director Steve Hetchen in February was a sign of Paratici’s growing influence, but here, encouraged by Conte guiding Spurs to the Champions League, it marked a real change in the Spurs’ desire to support their head coach. .

Previously, players were committed to a clearly defined potential future market value. This time they were pretty much targeted here and now. The arrival of full-back Ivan Perisic, 33, embodies this transformation more than any other signing. Tottenham announced a £150m cash injection from ENIC which helped fund a spending spree with the arrival of Perisic, Richarlison, Fraser Forster, Yves Bisuma, Jed Spence and Clement Lenglet at the club.

The activity generated a sense of momentum that took away any fears that England captain Harry Kane was looking to leave the club – after trying to force the team out last summer – and remarkably, most of those deals were done early in the window. , giving Conte a full introductory period to work with his new players.

Conti training sessions are very difficult. A player’s agent at the club told ESPN about the double sessions which included dozens of shuttles at the end. Another expressed amazement that Conte chose to work so hard with his players during an open session in front of the cameras in Korea that Kane was sick on the pitch, while others, including Son Heung-min, were unable to stand during brutal running exercises. But the players were fully convinced of Conte’s tactics, tempted in part by his track record, and respected the level of control he clearly had after being openly backed by Levy in the transfer market.

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ESPN have also been told of other data used by coaches to explain the need to improve player fitness, including the large number of late goals conceded by Spurs. If last season’s Premier League games were split into 10-minute blocks, with total points awarded to each of the nine divisions based on goals scored and conceded in those minutes, then Liverpool and Manchester City stand alone. teams that end up with an overall positive result. Who are they. Tottenham have been net positives in their first eight matches, but in those crucial last 10 minutes of matches they have scored seven goals and conceded 10, leaving them at -3. By contrast, City were +15 and Liverpool +14 in the final 10 minutes of last season’s games; Chelsea was +8.

There are a plethora of reasons for this, including the way City in particular are suffocating teams with their level of possession, but it’s an indicator that Conte called out his players more aggressively throughout the game – them also have dropped in 17 league games. last season, a number higher than Arsenal (15), Liverpool (12), Chelsea (11) and City (eight). Combined with Conte’s dedication to the 3-4-3 system, the players have been under no illusions about the physical and tactical expectations placed on them this season. While it remains a tough game on paper for both Liverpool and Liverpool, the biggest doubt about Tottenham remains their ability to deliver what they are asked to do under pressure.

The ‘sportsie’ brand – a pejorative term that basically means ‘to stumble with a winning streak in sight’ – is one of the brands the club are struggling to shake off. They were brilliant for most of Pochettino’s era, but eventually ended his five-year tenure without any awards to show progress. Their last success, whatever it is, remains the Coupe de la Ligue 2008.

Game

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James Ole explains how Richarlison could fit into Antonio Conte’s plans at Tottenham.

Jose Mourinho was named his successor with the idea of ​​fostering a siege mentality to motivate the squad, but he never succeeded. Nuno Espirito Santo’s 17-game stint was short because he was unforgettable, and so Conte now finds himself responsible for changing that mentality. When asked in May if he knows what “Sporsey” means, he replied, “I’m trying to cut that.”

The only way is to win silver medals. A small step on that path is to improve Spurs’ away record in the traditional Big Six. They have lost 37 of their last 60 league games against Arsenal, Liverpool, City, Manchester United and Chelsea, winning just nine. Although Tottenham have beaten City and drawn with Liverpool under Conte, they have won just one league game with Chelsea since 1990 – a 3-1 victory in April 2018.

“Obviously when you meet this kind of opponent [in Chelsea] “It’s a good time to judge you,” captain Hugo Lloris said after his day one win over Southampton.

Chelsea may have a proven pedigree, but the summer transfer business is not yet over and there is a new defense following the departures of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. There are definitely worse times to play with.

Spurs, on the other hand, have had a more stable pre-season, building on the past well. Spurs improved dramatically in the second half of last season, winning 10 of their last 14 league games to show a level of form, leading Conte to suggest he hopes they soon have another snag at Chelsea to see where they stand.

This weekend, he will finally have his chance.