Tottenham Hotspur’s usual press conference before tomorrow’s critically important Champions League match at Marseille was a little different — it did not feature Antonio Conte. The Spurs boss is suspended for this match after receiving a red card in the wake of Tottenham’s waved-off winner at home against Sporting last Wednesday. And rather than speak about a match he can’t manage, he decided to abdicate his press conference duties to his top assistant, fellow Italian Cristian Stellini.
Stellini was the one to break the bad news in reporting that Spurs will be without three major contributors vs. Marseille tomorrow — Dejan Kulusevski, Richarlison, and Cristian Romero. That likely means that we’ll see Davinson Sanchez start at the left CB position again which is starting to give me heart palpitations.
However, that wasn’t the interesting bit of the interview. Stellini also spoke about how the match is going to work with Conte banned from all contact with his team until after the match is over.
“[Antonio] will sit next to [his brother and Spurs assistant] Gianluca for sure. I don’t know where. He will be here at the stadium. He will work with us until we arrive here and then we have to stop the communication and then he will stay close to Gianluca. We have prepared all the strategies and our strategies are clear. We have to play our match at the best and we all have to do something more to fill the gap.
“We are not allowed to speak with Antonio in half-time. He will stay on the coach with the players [before arriving at the stadium], normally we use a different coach and then we will divide our way. We will go in the dressing room and Antonio will go in another seat. Then 15 minutes after the game we are able to speak again.
“[It] changes a lot, the presence of a coach like Conte is indispensible, especially in a tough match like this. We have to prepare ourselves.
“Normally in the days before a game he does his preparation alone. Now we have to do it together so it’s very different. I’m not alone though. I’ve got the whole staff with people like Ryan Mason.”
We’ve never really had a situation like this before: a match where Spurs must get a result or crash out of a major competition, and one where the players will be implementing Conte’s tactics but without him present. What does that mean for Tottenham? We don’t know! Will they play looser without Conte constantly barking at them from the sidelines? Will the lack of Conte’s presence mean less translation of his tactics to the squad in a live game state? Will Gianluca be able to physically restrain Conte from launching himself out of the stands and onto the pitch? So many questions!
I don’t have the answers but it does make me nervous. The Stade Velodrome is a notoriously difficult atmosphere to play in, and while Marseille’s attendance will be restricted due to ongoing sanctions from UEFA resulting in a stand closure, the crowd is likely to be rabid. It could get ugly. I hope Stellini is up for the challenge. I hope the Tottenham players are too.