After Saturday’s 3-0 loss, things looked quite bleak at Tottenham Hotspur. The team did not have a shot on goal at home for the first time in eight years, the fans were booing Nuno Espírito Santo and the team off the field, and the duo of Fabio Paratici and Daniel Levy felt inclined that a drastic move was needed to revive and jumpstart the club. After winning Manager of the Month in his opening month off the banks of three 1-0 victories, the wheels fell off for Nuno and his managerial staff and he was sacked on Monday.
Four London derby defeats provided extreme headaches, but, really, it was the lack of coherent tactics and attacking football that forced Spurs’ hierarchy into making the move. I will say that it is not entirely Nuno’s fault. The Portuguese manager is an honest and sympathetic guy, but he never felt like the right fit for a club whose ethos is “to Dare is to Do”.
In Antonio Conte, Spurs are once again attempting to bring in a manager that is considered a serial winner and one that will go down as one of the bests in recent memory. A great player who spent his whole playing career in Italy, Conte is a manager, unlike Mourinho, who played football at the highest level.
With Conte, Spurs are getting a manager who is known to have his sides extremely well-drilled and versatile. Known for his ever-shaping and ever-shifting tactics, Conte’s sides cause confusion by adapting and changing in each game. Most recently at Inter, he deployed a 3-5-2 formation that shaped into a 5-3-2 when they were in defense. However, Conte is a manager who is known to tweak and shift his tactics, providing that element of surprise and tactical difference that makes his teams so difficult to play through. While Conte used the 3-5-2 at Inter, he has a history of using different approaches, such as a 5-2-1-2, an irregular 4-4-2 or even a 3-5-1-1.
It is yet to be determined obviously what kind of shape he will prefer with this Spurs squad, but what is for sure is that he will get this squad sorted by bringing in his winning mentality, presence and tactical understanding. He is known to get his sides into top shape, which is understandably an area Spurs want to improve on. His sides press, dominate possession, ensure control and ask questions of opposing teams.
In looking at this Tottenham side, there are a number of players that need to be moved on, but there are still pieces within the squad that can form the basis of a very good team. Logic would tell you that Conte would not come to this job if there were not promises over the finances he would be given to refresh the squad. After clearing a lot of salary over the summer and having some time to recover from the COVID-19 financial crisis, perhaps Levy and the Spurs board gave their word to Conte that he would be backed financially.
There are obvious players who will benefit immensely under Conte. With a better tactical approach, we should surely expect to see players such as Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, and Cristian Romero reach the level they are capable of. However, let’s take a look at a few fringe players in the squad who will benefit under Conte.
Giovani Lo Celso
In Conte’s 3-5-2, Lo Celso could be put in a position where his strengths could be utilized. In assessing Lo Celso, it is such a conundrum how a player so good at Real Betis and at the international level for Argentina has been somewhat of a letdown at Spurs.
There are arguments that he has played out of position, but he has the ball-progression skill and the ability to dictate tempo that Conte should find resourceful. Due to Conte’s approach in dominating the midfield, it could free up a lot of space for Lo Celso to pick out passes and come good.
Like Lo Celso, Ndombele has been erratic in his Spurs career. For every spectacular performance, there is a performance where his fitness levels are questioned and he does not make his impact felt in the game. He is a tricky prospect due to his deference in defending, but he is capable of dictating play when he is on.
In Nuno’s tactics, Ndombele most frequently was deployed as a number ten in front of the holding duo of Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. Because of the lack of help he received, Spurs’ ball-progression approach was truly predicated on Ndombele being brilliant and doing things on his own, or to bypass the midfield entirely and progress the ball via the flanks. With Conte’s possession-based tactics I truly believe that Ndombele can be world-class. Add in Conte’s emphasis on fitness, and it will only do serious wonders for Ndombele.
Oliver Skipp & Pierre-Emile Højbjerg
Are you noticing a trend here? Midfielders are going to excel under Conte due to his tactical approach. I am not sure if both Skipp and Højbjerg will play together with as much frequency as they did under Nuno, but both players have the skills to excel as the deepest lying midfielder in Conte’s system. Both Skipp and Højbjerg are well-drilled tactically. They have good understandings of the game and they will be superb in retaining the ball in high-pressing situations.
Additionally, both players are better passers than many like to think. If Conte plays with three at the back, they will likely be deployed as a defensive shield but with a great amount of responsibility to safely distribute the ball. I will say again that I do not think both players should be in Conte’s starting XI each week, but each of them have the skills to act in Conte’s midfield anchor role (at least until January).
Should Conte deploy his preferred 3-5-2 his style of play will be predicated on attacking wing-backs providing width and attacking elements up the field. Of Spurs’ two best full backs at the moment, I am going with Reguilón to bode better than Emerson Royal.
Remember the player Reguilon was while on loan for Sevilla when they won the Europa League? At that time, Reguilón was one of the best prospects in all of Europe. At 24 years of age, he has somewhat struggled in his Premier League tenure. But he has elements in his play which will thrive in a wingback-type role. Where Reguilón has struggled is turning the ball over and his quick decision-making. With more protection behind and around him, he should have a bit less asked of him and that should correlate into attacking success.
I am going to go out on a limb on this one and say Tanganga could be given another look. I feel it has been forgotten how decent Tanganga started out at the beginning of the season. After Spurs brought in Emerson and Tanganga’s unfortunate red card at Crystal Palace, he has been somewhat marginalized in the squad. A long-time centerback prospect who Mourinho thought would suit better at right back, Tanganga could step back into his natural position as part of a back three.
This is likely the positional battle that I find most intriguing under the appointment of Conte. Romero will guaranteed be in the starting XI, but should he approach with that 3-5-2 formation, would it be Eric Dier and Davinson Sánchez next to him? Or, would Joe Rodon or Tanganga get the look? To me, Sanchez is the most likely to be moved on. His individual errors and lack of confidence on the ball are frequently glaring. With Dier, I just do not see his ceiling being that high long-term, so while Spurs will certainly hope to bring in reinforcements at the position, Tanganga could be given a boost over Rodon due to his positional versatility, his mobility, and his tenacity.
Which Spurs do you see benefitting most under Conte outside of the obvious ones?
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