You might have heard, but Antonio Conte will not be leading Tottenham Hotspur out of the tunnel on Sunday against West Ham. Spurs’ head coach has returned to Italy under doctor’s orders to continue his rehabilitation after successful gallbladder surgery two weeks ago.
In his place is assistant manager Cristian Stellini, who held a press conference ahead of the match. Stellini is a deferential person by nature, and while he did speak to the team’s approach heading into the derby, he didn’t give much away.
But first, an update on Conte. Stellini said that deciding to step away temporarily from control of the club was a difficult choice for Antonio, but it was one made in collaboration with his doctors and for the benefit of his own personal health and safety. Also, Conte is itching to get back as soon as possible.
“I have the same authority before [Conte] came back but since the moment he came back after two days Antonio’s feeling was that maybe he underestimate the procedure after the surgery. Coming close to the (Leicester) game, the stress, the tension he lives normally before the game create some problems. When they check with the doctor, with the club, they spoke for a long time about this and the decision was this. He needs to take it easy again. He will come back soon but not like he hope.
“Also yesterday we have a call every day, many times in a day, probably three times per day and every time he wants to come back and he repeat every day, ‘I want to come back Cristian, I’m sorry but how was training, tomorrow we have to organise something particular, we have to organise the team, what do you feel, what do you think,’ but he wants to come back. That is every time in his sentences.”
“Health is more important than football and this is the reason why the club, Antonio and the doctors decide to take this responsibility and leave Antonio in Italy after the last game. We don’t know the time. He needs to rest. The doctor thinks about the timing and they have an ideal but it is really a feeling from Antonio.
“He explained very well that surgery was not an easy surgery. It was a surgery with emergency. The inflammation was big and maybe they underestimate this situation. He needs time to be 100 per cent and Antonio not at 100 per cent is not Antonio. That creates stress and overstress and this is dangerous after a surgery like that.”
Son Heung-Min is enduring a miserable campaign this season, and there have been calls from Spurs supporters suggesting that he be dropped from the starting lineup in favor of Richarlison or new signing Arnaut Danjuma. When asked, Stellini spoke to Son’s importance, but was extremely noncommittal about what kind of lineup changes fans could see on Sunday.
“Every time when you pick the team, you have to leave someone on the bench and normally it is not important the player you have to maybe leave on the bench, it is about the team that has to play. It is important also that some important players stay on the bench their effort when they come in. This is very important.
“We have experience with Sonny, we have experience with Richarlison, we have experienced with Deki Kulusevski from the bench they change the game. This is normal and it is normal for everyone, not because you have an important player he has to play compulsory. If he need to play sometimes, also he needs to rest because we have a tough fixture (list). We have a tough moment and we play many times. Sometimes you have to change the player and also to perform better.”
That’s fine, but what about something more dramatic? After all with Conte no longer minding the store, wouldn’t it be a good time to shake up the formation? Stellini says — nope.
“If you are thinking to change the formation, I don’t know if you’re thinking to change to a back four we have only two or three full-backs. Nothing changed, this is our shape. It’s not about the strikers you have. We have the same full-backs and the same wing-backs.
“We have to adapt at the moment and probably in the future some players will have to play in a position they are not usually used in and we will do this, accept this and we will work with the players to be at their best.”
Stellini also dropped some new information about Yves Bissouma and the nature of his injury, saying that the Malian midfielder is suffering from a stress fracture brought about from overuse. Cool.
“We have to wait with Bissouma because it’s a stress fracture that came from overload so he needs time. We are so sad for Biss because now without Rodrigo, he could be an important player but in football this happens.
“We were happy about Bissouma’s effort and what he did in the pitch. We knew very well from the start of the season that a player like Bissouma would need time to understand our idea and what we want on the pitch, to understand being at a different club, a different level and in Champions League. It’s not the same. He needed time, he took his time and we were happy with Biss and now we are sad because we have no Biss with us but we have to accept this.”
It’s weird to say, but Spurs are still in fifth place and have a decent shot of qualifying for the Champions League again this season, but in order to do so they’ll need to play a lot better than they have for the majority of their matches in 2023. Spurs kick off against West Ham at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium this Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. UK.