Antonio Conte bringing an infectious joy back to Tottenham amid pressure of top four run-in



When Antonio Conte took over at Tottenham just five short months ago, the despondency from Spurs fans was at its lowest ebb since Juande Ramos’ final hours back in 2008.

Five defeats, nine goals scored and 15 conceded in just ten Premier League matches was not pleasing reading for the swiftly sacked Nuno Espirito Santo.

The Portuguese coach was shown the exit door in double quick time not only because of the results but the manner of the displays. It was dull, restrained, reactionary football which only yielded more than one league goal on two occasions.

Santo was not helped by the fact that he was following another pragmatic manager in compatriot Jose Mourinho. And although Mourinho enjoyed a brief period of success with his conservative style from him at the beginning of the 2020/21 campaign, ultimately it was an unwillingness to adapt to Spurs’ attacking strengths which proved to be his undoing from him.

The best evolution of Tottenham over the past decade came between 2015 and 2018 when Mauricio Pochettino’s relentless press allowed the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Christian Eriksen to flourish – supported by the width of Danny Rose and Kyle Walker and the midfield dynamism of Moussa Dembele.

It wasn’t just a successful team, though. It was also a joyful team – one which the supporters could identify with as mirroring the attacking football exhibited in the past through the likes of Jimmy Greaves, Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles.

Now, whisper it quietly, but after a few years of feeling like Spurs were being coached by an anaesthetist, they may just have found a man who can bring back that full throttle energy.

Not since the days of Pochettino have Tottenham won five Premier League games in a row. That run came back in December 2018 when a North London derby defeat sparked a superb run in which Spurs netted 17 times in five matches.

Three goals and a win over Brighton on Saturday lunchtime would equal that goal tally and also end a 28-month wait for a five-match winning run in the league.

But perhaps even more astonishing than that is the fact that five wins from their remaining seven games would see Tottenham surpass the points tally they accumulated in the 2015/16 season when they famously ‘put pressure’ on Leicester during their incredible title triumph.

When Nuno was sacked at the end of October with the team eighth in the table, only a brave soul would have bet on Spurs finishing in the top four.

Conte will become Spurs’ first manager since Mauricio Pochettino to win five Premier League games in a row if they beat Brighton

(Getty Images)

Now, despite a characteristic ‘toys out of the pram’ moment since Conte less than two months, they are the favorites to clinch that final Champions League place.

There is still a lot of work to do, but both the results and style of football have been turned around as quickly as Nuno was sent packing.

That feel-good atmosphere has filtered through the club. Suddenly, managing director Fabio Paratici – who was heavily criticized for the lack of business in the January transfer market – is looking like a shrewd operator following the acquisitions of Juventus pair Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski.

Bentancur has become a staple in the Spurs midfield alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, while Kulusevsi has instantaneously solidified himself as the tonic to the potent shot of Son and Kane.

Tottenham’s now-regular front three have already combined for 11 Premier League goals in nine matches since Kulusevski’s debut start against Manchester City. It is a swift and intriguing style shift.

While Conte’s arrival was met with widespread praise given his track record, there were some corners of the Spurs supportership that wrongly pinned him as another defensively-minded coach. This was untrue then and has come to be so now.

Mourinho and Nuno, Conte has not shied away from the reality that Spurs’ strength is playing on the front foot. Even with the addition of the impressive Cristian Romero, they are not AC Milan from 1990 or Inter Milan from 2010. Conte knows that and has showcased how his 3-4-3 set-up can facilitate a free-flowing attack.

The 5-1 win over Newcastle was the perfect example of how Conte’s system can flourish with this Spurs side. Matt Doherty and Emerson Royal are by no means world class wingbacks, but they were relentlessly bombing forward, acting as two of the main forward outlets in a Liverpool-esque vein.

The front three of Kane, Son and Kulusevski have been phenomenal in recent weeks

(Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)

With a keeper who has seen it all in Hugo Lloris, a centre-half to build their future around in Romero, a consistent midfield partnership in Hojbjerg and Bentancur, and the aforementioned triple threat in attack, Conte will feel he is beginning to mold this team to his philosophy.

Again, whisper it quietly, but it could even be promising enough to convince Kane to stay.

As far as this weekend goes, a victory over Brighton on Saturday would send a message to rivals Arsenal – not least because Graham Potter’s side beat the Gunners at the Emirates last weekend.

Spurs dispatched the south coast outfit 2-0 at the Amex Stadium just four weeks ago and also won 3-1 in the FA Cup at the beginning of February.

All roads point towards another three points for Conte’s men and with it their best league run in more than two years.

Sweep aside the Conte Cam, the perpetual screaming, the passionate/manic rants, what you are left with is a supremely talented group of players, coached by an elite manager, who may well be returning to the top table sooner than we all envisaged.


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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