Since being appointed as manager on November 2nd, Antonio Conte has certainly given Tottenham Hotspur some added belief. So far in his early Tottenham days, the lone loss for Conte has come in the UEFA Conference League against NŠ Mura. But in the Premier League, Conte’s record so far stands at 3-1-0, including another three points on Sunday against Norwich City.
What has become clear is that Conte has gotten comfortable with the squad in a 3-4-3 shape. In most of his games, outside of the debacle against Mura, he has largely featured the same starting XI. However, Conte’s roster options were stretched in this game given the injury knock to Sergio Reguilón in pre-game as well as an illness that kept Emerson Royal out of this match. Reguilón was able to start this match, but needed to come off after 20 minutes. So for a bulk of the game, Conte relied on Ryan Sessegnon and Japhet Tanganga as his main wingbacks.
In the back three, with Cristian Romero still sidelined, Conte featured the same three of Davinson Sánchez as the right-sided center back, Eric Dier as the spare man in the middle and Ben Davies as the left-sided center back. The front three remained the same in Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura.
Despite playing at home against one of the bottom sides in the Premier League, Norwich City played pretty well in this one and the scoreline of 3-0 definitely did not tell the whole story. Some poor finishing from Norwich kept them goalless, but the likely-relegated side asked a lot of questions from Spurs in this game.
Norwich’s first opportunity came in the third minute when Sánchez was dragged way up the field out of position. Through nice link-up play, Norwich found space down the flank and Teemu Pukki gave the visitors the first real goal-scoring chance of the game. Hugo Lloris was able to make the save, but the first few minutes or so clearly showed that Spurs were a little leggy given they last played on Thursday while Norwich last played on Tuesday.
After about a 10-minute spell which saw Norwich dominate possession, Lucas Moura had the highlight of the game when he shifted around multiple defenders and linked up with Son before finding space on his own and directing a powerful shot into the back of the net. Remarkably, Moura’s goal was just a .03 xG chance.
Despite the goal, Spurs were still largely defending in the first half and while Norwich dominated possession, they really did not test Spurs’ backline that much. At the end of the first half, Spurs were somewhat deserving of their lead. Kane had a chance to double Spurs’ lead in the 39th minute when he tried catching Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul off his line, but the chance went wide.
At the start of the second half, Spurs came out a bit more inspired and were threatening. However, a small spell of Norwich possession led many to believe that perhaps the 19th-place side could find an equalizer.
After about 20 minutes, Spurs, in large part due to Sessegnon’s influence on the flank, had a flurry of corners. And in the 67th minute, a dangerous corner from Son and a flicked-on pass from Davies led to Sánchez firing past Krul to give Spurs a two-goal lead. A few minutes later, Oliver Skipp and Davies linked up play before finding Son in a dangerous position and the South Korean was able to provide a third goal, giving him seven on the season.
Norwich had a chance to get on the scoresheet later from American Josh Sargent, but it was not meant to be and Spurs were able to win their third consecutive Premier League match and move to fifth place, two points off of fourth with a game in hand in the process.
To reflect on this game, let’s do another rose, thorn and bud assessment. As a reminder for those of this game, see the definitions below:
- Rose: A highlight, success, small win, or something positive that happened.
- Thorn: A challenge you experienced or something you can use more support with.
- Bud: New ideas that have blossomed or something you are looking forward to knowing more about or experiencing.
For starters, Spurs are becoming more and more comfortable with their new shape under Conte. It seems that the repetitions and the patterns, whether practiced on the training ground or in games, are starting to become more clearer to at least this set of players. Many thought Spurs would operate in a 3-5-2 shape, but Conte looks more and more keen on keeping the 3-4-3.
In defense, while this particular trio has not looked so comfortable playing out from the back, they did enough to keep Norwich’s chances at bay. Sure, the defense will improve with reinforcements likely coming in the near transfer windows, but the play of Davies should really be mentioned here. He has come into a nice run of form since the appointment of Conte and is playing in a role that is more suited to his game.
Another bright spot has been the play of Skipp. It seems that he is improving and adding a new dimension to his game every time he steps in between the lines. From driving runs into attacking spaces to not letting Norwich get out from their own half, Skipp is becoming quite good. At the start of the season, I had Skipp largely spelling Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in the number six role. However, Skipp has gotten more and more comfortable under Conte and he is starting to have the look and feel of a player that will be one of the first names in the starting XI each week.
When Reguilón went down with injury, many were interested to see how Sessegnon would get on considering his red card in Europe last week ultimately led to Spurs’ downfall in Slovenia. While he may not be as comfortable in defense or as fast as Reguilón is, Sessegnon is certainly a better natural ball-carrier. He was extremely dangerous down the left side tonight and it appears that Spurs have some good depth and options for that left wingback role.
Lastly, the front three provided a real good platform tonight. I have written before that both Lucas and Son run hot and cold. But in this game, the two were extremely bright. While Lucas’ goal was spectacular, he was active the entire night and displayed a real desire to receive the ball and make things happen. Son’s impact was felt more and more once Sessegnon gained confidence throughout the game. For Kane, while it was yet another game without a goal, you can tell that he is looking more and more at it. He was arguably the team’s best player in the second half and looked extremely dangerous. Kane’s goals will certainly come.
The main thorns I had from this game were Spurs’ inability to play out from the back consistently. Due to the illness of Emerson, Spurs went with Tanganga over Matt Doherty in the right wingback role. Doherty did come on for Tanganga later in the match, but it was not the best game for the former Tottenham youth product. When you have both Sánchez and Tanganga on the same side, two players who are not as comfortable with the ball at their feet, it could lead to problems against better sides. Fortunately in this game, those potential problems did not come to the forefront.
Tanganga was outplayed against Brandon Williams in individual duels and attacks really ended down his flank. Like Davies, wingback may not be his best fit, but he could blossom in the right-sided center-back role if given the chance. With Romero out until at least the new year, Tanganga could play as Sánchez’s deputy in that role.
It is early days under Conte, but Spurs have really had the fortune of going through an easy spell of games recently. Whenever a new manager comes in, there becomes a line between process and results. Against Everton, we saw the process of Conte and the platform that he was looking to build upon. But now, thanks to home fixtures against Leeds, Brentford and Norwich, we are starting to see the results.
The glass half-empty approach could be that Spurs should be putting these sides away with ease, but this is a group of players that have been through a lot of adversity in recent years under José Mourinho and Nuno Espírito Santo and winning cures everything. You should never be angry or upset with victories, so while today’s performance was not perfect, three points is three points and now Spurs turn their attention back to the UEFA Conference League looking to qualify when they host group leaders Rennes.
With how wide open the Premier League is outside of the top three, there are a number of clubs in contention for that fourth place spot. Spurs are certainly in that conversation, which would have sounded incomprehensible when the club sacked Nuno just over a month ago. Stranger things have happened. COYS.
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