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Conte Arrives – Squad under the microscope

To no-one’s surprise, Nuno departed Tottenham after 10 league games, a 50% win ratio, and the 3rd worst goal difference in the league. Both parties walked away with damaged reputations wishing they’d never entered their uneasy alliance. In response, Tottenham dug the shortlist out of bin, and start from the top once more in the hope of a different outcome. Enter Conte, who is busy at the Enfield Training Ground picking out his office furniture and running the rule over the squad he has inherited. 

What should Tottenham fans expect from Conte? 

The Italian comes with a strong reputation of intense training sessions, seeking to test each player’s mental and physical fortitude. The Italian is expected to outline his expectations to the group, seeking to instil a sense of energy and purpose, as a Tottenham fan, I can only hope this has a particular impact on Harry Kane, Dele Alli, perhaps even Harry Winks who appear to have lost their desire in recent months. 

Looking at his most recent spell at Inter Milan there were recognisable traits of the Conte blueprint, below we analyse what these may mean for Tottenham’s players going forward, and which players may be thrust into the spotlight as a result.

A Back-three with wing-backs

The Italian has used a back-three throughout his career and given the squad make-up we should expect this to continue. He has the luxury of internationally experienced players in this position, notably Christian Romero, Davinson Sanchez and Joe Rodon, the latter being woefully under-utilised by Nuno. Reguillon and Royal should be expected to consistently push further forward on the right than we have seen this season, with a view to creating overloads to force the opposition into a mistake.

Credit: Tottenham Hotspur

Under the microscope: Emerson Royal

On the right, Emerson Royal is a player Tottenham fans are yet to see the best from. We can only hope this appointment brings out the best in his game. The wing-backs in particular will be on trial, Conte has been arguably the best manager at utilising this position to spearhead attacking play and if his current charges are unable to regularly deliver before January I would expect an upgrade here. Although he has only recently signed, history dictates that Emerson is in real danger of losing out on Premiership football before his career has begun if he fails to execute Contes plan to the letter. In addition, I think the Tanganga experiment at fullback is unlikely to be extended. 

Midfield – Built around a box-to-box player breaking the lines

Undoubtedly, looking at the current squad, the Tottenham midfield has to be built around Hojbjerg, however while he demonstrates strength and stamina in the centre of the park, he is unlikely to be able to make the dynamic box-to-box runs that Conte demanded at Inter Milan. Nicolo Barella played this role providing progressive runs, high pass rate, and through balls for others to capitalise upon, its hard to find an equivalent within the current squad. 

Credit: Sky Sports

Under the microscope: Tanguy Ndombele 

Tottenham’s record-signing has cut a frustrated figure under each manager he has served to-date. Stories of weight-issues, inability to meet demands of training sessions and an ability to disappear when on the pitch have not helped him to secure a regular place in the starting line-up since he joined. These traits will not endear him to his new boss. Furthermore, Ndombele’s defensive frailties will come under the spotlight with Conte previously remarking unfavourably upon players who are unable to fulfil his demands to the letter. Whether the Italian is able to get the best out of Ndombele will be a fascinating sub-plot in the weeks to come. Regardless of performances, I expect Conte to sign a more dynamic box-to-box player in January.

Efficiency in shot conversion 

Totttenham have been profligate in front of goal at times this season, failing to register a single shot-on-target against Manchester United. Interestingly however, although they rank bottom of the league in terms of shots taken, 39% have been on target, higher than the majority of other teams including Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United. Despite hitting the target, only 1 in 4 of these efforts has resulted in a goal however which is far lower than their rivals. In the league, Spurs have failed to score a single goal from a counter-attack, or a header, with a heavy reliance on shots from outside the box to produce goals.

At Inter, Conte’s offensive success was based upon the use of targeted counter-attacks, they did not shoot from distance, instead probing until a gap opened up in the eighteen-yard box and exploiting it to a ruthless extent. This relied upon the collective speed of attackers using width and guile to create opportunities, and the ability of strikers to get behind their defenders at the most opportune moments. Inter worked as a unit to get the best out of every attacking situation. For Spurs, although Son and Kane will be the targets, others will be expected to contribute goals on a regular basis.

Credit: The Athletic

Under the microscope: Moura, Alli, Lo Celso,

For our purposes, we should consider Son and Kane as untouchable, regardless of system or tactic it is almost unthinkable for these two to left on the sidelines unless against weaker cup opposition. The same cannot be claimed of the other elements of the attacking unit who will need to quickly come up to speed with Conte’s methods. 

Moura was ever present under Mourinho, a lynch-pin who underlined the team’s style of play, hard-working, focused and seeking to win the ball as high up the pitch as possible. The Brazilian will be asked to perform a different role under Conte and, on his day, he has all the attributes to succeed. The question will be whether that day arrives frequently enough to satisfy Conte’s appetite.

Lo Celso is a player who Tottenham fans have watched regularly performing for Argentina only to never fulfil the same potential in the Lilywhite jersey. He notably underperformed against Chelsea and Manchester United, losing possession 12 times in each game and failing to meet a target with his crosses, other performances have been better for example against West Ham. This feels like a final chance for Gio and he will need to grab it with both hands.

It is now at least 3 seasons since we regularly saw the best of Alli in a Spurs shirt. The arrival of each new manager is greeted with improved work-rate, enthusiasm and desire for a handful of games, only to disappear just as suddenly. Dele’s performance against Arsenal was nothing short of embarrassing to the extent that he was withdrawn for Skipp at half-time. Like Lo Celso, it feels as though Dele is at a crossroads, he is the type of player who could flourish under Conte, however, he may lack the appetite for another change in which case it’s likely he will leave in the Summer.

Time will tell which of the current squad is firmly out of contention for a squad place by the time January is over, undoubtedly there will be some who don’t respond to the new approach, and perhaps we finally have someone who will take the tough stance required to effect a cultural shirt. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.  

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