It feels like it’s been ages, but Tottenham Hotspur finally have another Premier League match coming, this time at home to Newcastle this Sunday. Antonio Conte gave his first press conference since the international break finished this morning, and was more positive than I’ve heard him in a while.
In particular, he gave an injury update and said he is anticipating that both Oliver Skipp and Ryan Sessegnon will be back in full training by next week.
“Good news for Oliver, Skippy, and Ryan Sessegnon, they are very very close to being back with the team. They are improving a lot. They are having important training sessions, not with the team but apart. I hope next week to have both players back with the team.”
We’ve talked a lot about Skippy lately, not just because he’s proven to be a vital component in Tottenham’s midfield but also because of his weird injury — a knock that turned into a weird infection in his groin that has led to a prolonged (and painful) recovery period. It’s great to hear that he’s doing individual workouts and even better news that he’s expected to rejoin training soon. I would imagine that Skipp would take little while to get back up to speed, but maybe he could make a Premier League bench by next weekend’s match at Aston Villa?
Ryan Sessegnon meanwhile has been dealing with a hamstring injury, a more straightforward injury to deal with. But his return would also give Conte additional options at left wingback, a position that has been anything but settled over the past few months. Before his injury, it sure looked like Sess was favored in the position ahead of Sergio Reguilon. Regardless, competition is good as it pushes both players to continue to work and improve.
Elsewhere, Conte was full of praise for his players who excelled while on international duty, particularly Joe Rodon who had a wonderful spell with Wales, helping them to the brink of qualification for
this summer’s next winter’s World Cup in Qatar, and that of Steven Bergwijn, who was a goal machine for the Netherlands. Conte was pretty enthusiastic about Rodon, considering he’s barely sniffed the field for Spurs since Antonio came on board.
“When our players go to national teams, my staff and I try to watch every game. This session of the national team, we have to be pleased. To see the performance of Joe and also Steven Bergwijn, it means maybe we’re doing a good job with them.
“Joe is not playing many games with us but despite this he was fit. Joe is a good player but a really really great man. He had broken two ribs. He did every training session. He was always available and I know very well the pain you feel when you break a rib. It means you’re a great man. Joe has to continue in this way, work hard and have this satisfaction.
“I repeat to play this way with Wales in an important game in World Cup qualification, it means you’re working hard and well. I always say this: I have a group of players working well, they’re very focused and working to improve the level.”
On Bergwijn, Conte was a touch more measured, praising his play with the Dutch but also offering some constructive criticism.
“We are talking about a player with great quality and potential. He’s different to the players we’ve got in the squad, 1v1 when the space is very short and he’s good to beat the man and create chances.
“I think Steven has great space for improvement and he has to give continuity. He needs to continue to work hard. He’s a player that can change the situation. He can create chances for himself and others.
“I think he needs to believe in himself more. He needs to continue to work with and without the ball and help the team in every moment. Football is a team game and you have to be ready to help the team in every moment. For sure we are talking about another player who is doing important improvements.”
Spurs have nine matches remaining in the Premier League season, including the to-be-confirmed North London Derby at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. At present they are fifth, three points behind Arsenal though the Gunners have a match in hand. No sure thing to be sure, but Spurs have clawed their way back into the top four conversation, and know that every match until the end of the season is an important one. Conte recognized Tottenham’s situation, but also made sure to impress the level of challenge it will take to qualify for the Champions League.
“If you had asked me [before] about our possibility to reach a place in the Champions League, I would say very, very difficult. Now I think we have to try to fight until the end to have the possibility to reach this target.
“I think to play in the Champions League next season is important for me, important for the players and the fans. To play in the CL is completely different to the Europa League and Conference League. It’s a different target for the club because you can plan for important things.”
Spurs’ match against the nouveau-riche and newly resurgent Newcastle kicks off at 11:30 a.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. UK on Sunday. The match is televised on USA Network in the United States and Sky Sports in the UK.