M.anchester United were apparently put off by Antonio Conte’s style and short spells at his previous clubs but the Italian’s relentless nature is bringing the best out of Spurs – as a team and individuals – to put them in the driving seat for Champions League qualification.
Since he arrived at Tottenham things have not always gone smoothly but the hard work on the training ground is paying off. They have won six of their past seven league games during a crucial spell. Spurs have scored more Premier League goals than any other team since the turn of the year and become less reliant on Harry Kane.
Before Conte’s appointment, Spurs were bottom of the table when it came to ground covered. The key to all Conte’s work is making the squad fitter because without that his methods di lui do not work. By all accounts he is working the players harder in training than his predecessor di lui, Nuno Espírito Santo, to fit them into his preferred 3-4-3. When I was at Chelsea I would see Conte at the training ground and he was relentless with players as he tried to make the shape right and find areas for individuals to improve.
Kane is thriving under Conte; in the league he has scored 12 goals this season and created another eight, with only one goal and one assist coming under Nuno. Like his teammates di lui, Kane appears fitter, which has reinvigorated him after a long season when you factor in the Euros. His role di lui has not necessarily changed because he has always liked to drop deep to make the most of his passing range, but now his teammates can keep going beyond him. It is no longer just Son Heung-min doing that, meaning Kane has greater options when he finds pockets of space. That takes the pressure off him, something reflected in his performances by him.
Spurs’ most consistent forwards have been aided by the winter signing of Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus. He is the player they have been crying out for because Steven Bergwijn, Lucas Moura and Gareth Bale have tried to fill the role but failed to produce on a regular basis. The Sweden international has fitted in well and formed an understanding with Son and Kane to reach three goals and six assists in 11 league games.
Whereas Tottenham’s rivals carried out limited January transfer business, Conte let four leave and although the club signed only Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur it has paid off. Kulusevski is young and they have options to buy for as little as € 30m. It is part of the business model to buy a top player for a good price, like they did with Son, and gives them time to develop him into the player they want with two top individuals in Kane and Son alongside him.
There are few better at bringing about immediate improvements out of players than Conte. Look at Romelu Lukaku: he took him to Internazionale after it was obvious the Belgian was not wanted at Manchester United and made him into a striker who scored 64 goals in two seasons and was sold for £ 97.5m. At Spurs, he has turned Matt Doherty from a player who could not get into matchday squads under José Mourinho into a major part of his system until injury at Aston Villa last Saturday ended Doherty’s season. In 2022, Doherty has two league goals and four assists and has looked to be back to the player he was at Wolves.
Going out of the Europa Conference League and FA Cup will have helped Conte because he needed time on the training ground to make the squad used to his methods. Resting players for matches on a Thursday is useful but it does mean their training week will be disrupted because a different starting XI is put into shape. Fewer games to concentrate on is better because having a full week to overload the players to get them fit and sharp allows them to peak for one match. It enables them to build preparation into that game and means there can be no excuses, and you can see that coming through.
At one point it did not look as if Conte would revitalize Spurs and he implied he was willing to leave after their defeat at Burnley in late February. Conte said “maybe I am not so good”, although he has plenty of evidence to the contrary. I do not know why he said it – maybe he wanted to put pressure on the club’s hierarchy – but lui it seems to have worked given that the football and results have been better since. It shows he knows how to push buttons on and off the pitch.
Spurs have made themselves favorites for fourth spot. Manchester United are in terrible form, Arsenal have lost their past two games, to Crystal Palace and Brighton, and West Ham’s results have dipped while juggling the Premier League and Europa League. Spurs have a north London derby to come – a home game on 12 May – and I think they will secure Champions League qualification.
Of the four managers vying for fourth place, Conte is the one I would want in my dressing room, without a doubt. Spurs have form in their favor and the stamina to complete the job, all thanks to Conte proving once again that his methods di lui work.