It’s kind of crazy to think about, but Saturday is the Premier League season opener for Tottenham Hotspur. Antonio Conte gave his opening press release ahead of Spurs’ Week 1 match at home against Southampton, and he provided an update on the overall team health and fitness leading into the match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The bad news is expected — Oliver Skipp will miss this match and possibly the next one as he recovers from a foot injury sustained in training. In addition, new midfielder Yves Bissouma is questionable after tweaking his hamstring in one of Spurs’ preseason friendlies. Conte didn’t explicitly rule out Bissouma from participating, but if he’s cleared to play it’s unlikely to be as a starter.
But the good news? Everyone else is ready to go, including Ivan Perisic.
“In this moment, we have only one player that I’m sure will miss against Southampton which is Oliver Skipp. Bissouma we have another day to check very well his physical condition. Nothing serious but I don’t want to take any risks for the next games, but tomorrow we have another training session to make an evaluation about the team. The other players are all available.”
Skipp and Bissouma’s situation means we’re almost certainly going to see a week 1 midfield pairing of Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and while those who were hoping for Bissouma to stake a starting role from the jump, a pairing of Lolo and General Ho is both familiar and, as we know, effective.
As for Perisic, Conte said he has a decision to make about him or Ryan Sessegnon at the left wingback position, especially since Perisic is still rounding into form.
It’s normal after a serious injury to be struggling a bit to come back in the best physical condition. Honestly I’m surprised because he reduced his time to recover. We are really happy. At the same time we are not worried but we have to pay a bit of attention to give him the right time to adapt himself to recover 100% after his injury.
But I know him very well and he is a very good addition for us, it will be really important for his experience for the younger players. Sessegnon is a player who plays in the same role. Ivan can teach him a lot of situations to improve Sess, but even for sure he is a really good addition for us for many aspects. Then we will see. We have another training session tomorrow - play him or Sess.
This season comes with a high degree of anticipation for Spurs fans, especially after the club made so many important additions to the squad in accordance to Conte’s wishes. The thought is that Spurs should be pushing for silverware starting this season. Conte was asked about whether Tottenham could win the league this season, and seemed to push back slightly on the expectation that the time for Tottenham to win something is now.
“Why not not win the Champions League and Premier League? I think my target and the club’s target is to try to continue to improve, to develop the process that we started seven months ago.
“It doesn’t mean that if you lift a trophy or win the Premier League or the Champions League, or you get a place in the Champions League you achieved your target. It means we have to try to develop in every aspect, because my experience tells me we’re going in the right direction but at the same time I know the club needed another step before being competitive to the top team in the League and Europe.
“We have to not be presumptuous or arrogant and know only one word: work, work, work to try to improve on the pitch and outside the pitch to become a top club.
“We’re on the right direction, we’re improving and our target has to be to develop the situation and to increase our value on and off the pitch.”
Conte was in a particularly contemplative mood in this opening presser. He seemed like a manager who is happy with his team and where he is. There was a notable difference in tone regarding his comments about his status as Tottenham manager, especially to some of his comments towards the end of last season.
“I have to be honest, from the first when I arrived in Tottenham, I was really happy because I always said I found a model club with a great stadium and fantastic training ground. Everything a coach aspired to find when I signed a contract.
“At the same time I say I want to try to build something important with this club because I like to win and I say it would be very important to match these two situations and to develop the club, to bring the club to become a club that wants to fight for something important in every season.
“Then you know very well every season there is one who wins the Premier League, one who wins the Champions League, one who wins FA Cup, one who wins the Carabao Cup and in England it is very difficult to win because there are monsters but at the same time our target is to give Tottenham the stability to stay there and then to fight, to fight to be competitive and fight to lift a trophy. To become a stable club in a good position but I know also other clubs want to do the same and for this season it will be very difficult.
When asked about whether Tottenham can win the league this season, Conte tried to temper expectations, despite Tottenham’s vibrant early transfer window business.
“Our target in this moment is not to close the gap, it’s to try to be better compared than last season. We know that last season we reached the fourth place and in my opinion it was a big, big achievement, especially as we finished the season with only 13 players.
“The first target, our target, the club target was to try to improve the squad in quality and numerically, because also with the numerical aspect of the squad it was not enough.
“It was our first target. Then you know very well that you can’t reach the best, the optimum in only one year or only after seven months. You know that you need a bit of patience but at the same time it’s important to have ambition to try to be competition, to try to fight for the best. The ambition has to be the best.”
That ambition starts this Saturday against Southampton.