Antonio Conte to Tottenham: What will Spurs look like under the former Inter Milan and Chelsea manager?


Strength in numbers at the back

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Antonio Conte is a winner but he will have his work cut out to take Tottenham to the top, according to Jamie Redknapp

Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Spurs on Saturday was just the latest reminder of how a switch to a back three can shore up a side in need of some defensive stability.

United had conceded nine goals in their previous two Premier League games, allowing their opponents a combined total of 19 shots on target. But at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the change of formation brought a first clean sheet since August.

The inclusion of three centre-backs in Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof provided added security. David de Gea, so busy in their defeats to Leicester and Liverpool, was not even tested once.

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The tactical adjustment gave Manchester United a platform to build on and following the appointment of Conte on Monday, Spurs will now be hoping to see something similar.

Conte is, after all, one of the system’s most successful advocates.

His Chelsea side’s title triumph in 2016/17 was built on a back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz and Gary Cahill. His successes with Juventus, the Italian national team and more recently with Inter Milan were achieved using the same approach.

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Tottenham’s failure to register a shot on target against Manchester United underlined their attacking shortcomings under Nuno but their issues at the other end of the pitch are just as pressing for the Portuguese’s successor.

So far this season, only six Premier League teams have conceded more Premier League goals than Spurs. They also rank in the bottom half for shots faced and expected goals against.

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Jamie Carragher says Nuno Espirito Santo was a bad appointment for Spurs from the start due to his style of play

Unlike Ole Gunnar Solsjaer at Manchester United, Conte does not have a player of Varane’s calibre waiting in the wings at Tottenham. Nor does he have defenders like Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci to call on as he did at Juventus.

But he will still be confident that a switch to the system he has favoured throughout his managerial career can give Spurs sturdier defensive foundations – and there are at least some ingredients there to work with.

The £42m Cristian Romero played in the middle of a back three at his previous club Atalanta, while the likes of Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, Japhet Tanganga and Joe Rodon would surely benefit from the strength in numbers afforded by a three-man central defence.

Marauding wing-backs

Image: Sergio Reguilon could be used as a wing-back by Conte

A Conte back three typically looks more like a back five out of possession, with the two wing-backs dropping back to track opposition wingers and screen wide areas.

Primarily, though, the remit of Conte’s wing-backs is to provide width and goal threat in the final third.

Marcos Alonso excelled in the role under Conte at Chelsea, scoring 13 times and providing five assists across the Italian’s two Premier League seasons in charge. The Spaniard is now performing a similar role for the club under Thomas Tuchel.

At Inter Milan, Conte harnessed the attacking qualities of Achraf Hakimi in the same position. The 22-year-old, who has since joined Paris Saint-Germain, scored seven goals and provided eight assists in Inter’s title-winning campaign last year.

Image: Chelsea and Inter Milan's average positions under Conte highlight his use of a back three and wing-backs who push up on the flanks

At Spurs, the most obvious candidates for Conte’s wing-back roles are Sergio Reguilon and Emerson Royal. Reguilon has provided glimpses of his attacking threat at Spurs, while Emerson impressed offensively for his previous club Real Betis.

Conte might even choose to bring the attack-minded Matt Doherty in from the cold, while he has also been known to convert wingers into wing-backs.

At Chelsea, he used the previously out-of-favour Victor Moses in the role to great effect. He then did the same with Croatia international Ivan Perisic at Inter Milan last season.

It opens up more possibilities at Tottenham.

Could Lucas Moura be re-purposed as a wing-back? Could Steven Bergwijn fit the bill? As unlikely as it may seem, Conte’s history suggests it shouldn’t be ruled out.

Hojbjerg as deep-lying playmaker

Image: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg could have a key role to play in Conte's system

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has endured a difficult start to the season, at times finding himself manning Tottenham’s midfield single-handedly, but Conte’s system should suit him better than Nuno’s.

The 52-year-old generally prefers to use a deep-lying playmaker at the base of a midfield three, for example Andrea Pirlo at Juventus, Cesc Fabregas at Chelsea and Marcelo Brozovic at Inter Milan.

Hojbjerg excelled in a similar role for Denmark at Euro 2020, averaging more passes per 90 minutes (63.7) than any of their other starters and earning a place in UEFA’s team of the tournament.

Hojbjerg benefitted from the support of three centre-backs during that tournament, ensuring there was less space around him, and it is likely to be a similar story at Spurs under Conte.

Out of possession, the Dane will still be required to help shut down opponents and break up opposition attacks, but, with the ball, the emphasis will be on providing a supply line for the forwards, wing-backs and more advanced midfielders ahead of him.

Conte may seek to strengthen the spine of his team in future transfer windows but in the meantime, he will hope to get more out of players such as Giovani Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndombele and Dele Alli in the advanced midfield roles in his system.

Conte likes those players to contribute goals. Alli, in particular, would surely relish the freedom to bomb forward into the opposition box – just as he did to such devastating effect under his former manager Mauricio Pochettino earlier in his Spurs career.

Kane and Son as strike partners

The anger of Spurs supporters was not solely directed at Nuno during Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Manchester United. For the first time, there were also audible boos for the under-performing Harry Kane.

The 28-year-old has cut a frustrated figure since a summer move to Manchester City failed to materialise and one of Conte’s priorities will be to get him back on side and back in form.

Fortunately for Spurs, Conte has an excellent record when it comes to working with strikers. Most recently, at Inter Milan, he helped Romelu Lukaku produce the best form of his career, the Belgian scoring 64 goals across two seasons in Italy following his disappointing spell with Manchester United.

Carlos Tevez and Diego Costa proved similarly effective under him at Juventus and Chelsea respectively, and what’s also notable is the skill with which Conte creates strike partnerships.

At Inter, Lukaku benefitted from the presence of Lautaro Martinez alongside him. The Argentine scoring 17 Serie A goals to Lukaku’s 24 and they combined for many of them.

There was a similarly strong understanding between Costa and Eden Hazard at Chelsea. Like Lukaku and Martinez at Inter, they operated in close proximity and opponents struggled to cope with them. In 2016/17, they scored 36 goals and provided 12 assists between them.

Conte could be excused for having misgivings over some areas of the squad he is inheriting at Spurs, but he will surely be relishing the prospect of building his attack around Kane and Heung-Min Son.

The pair already have what Son has previously described as a “telepathic” understanding on the pitch. There can be few managers better-placed than Conte to maximise it.

Carra: Conte needs time but CL possible

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Jamie Carragher discusses Tottenham’s sacking of Nuno Espirito Santo and how the potential appointment of Antonio Conte could be massive for Spurs – if he gets time

Speaking on Sky Sports News ahead of Monday Night Football this week, Jamie Carragher said: “I’d love Conte back in the Premier League. I think he was a revelation first time around [at Chelsea]. He’s a brilliant character and I’d love to see his personality back in the Premier League.

“But I think a manager is going to need more than 18 months to turn Tottenham around, and even though I am a huge admirer of Conte and how quickly he had success at Chelsea and at every club he’s been to, I think it would be very difficult to replicate that success in 18 months at Spurs.

“I think he might need another 18 months on top of that to get Tottenham back challenging, or back to where they were under Mauricio Pochettino, where they felt they had a chance of winning trophies or pushing for the title or the Champions League year in, year out.”

In the shorter-term, however, Carragher feels Champions League qualification is achievable with the players Spurs already have.

“I think this squad is capable of challenging for the Champions League positions,” he added. “They are not a million miles from that right now, and I think Spurs as a club should always aspire to be in that position.

“I think if Conte took the job, you would be thinking that Spurs in the future can definitely make the Champions League because he can make a huge difference. He’s shown it throughout his career.”

‘Conte can revive Kane like Lukaku’

The Essential Football Podcast panel believe Harry Kane can get back to his best under Antonio Conte – much like Romelu Lukaku did at Inter Milan.

“Conte certainly has the status Harry Kane would like to see from a manager,” said Sky Sports’ features writer Nick Wright. “You look at available managers in the game right now, and he stands out with his fantastic record.

“One of his biggest priorities coming in will be to speak with Kane and get him back to the kind of form we know he can produce.

“Conte is sometimes mischaracterised as a defensive coach, maybe because he uses a back three, but his Chelsea title-winning side scored 85 goals that year, Chelsea’s second-highest total in a Premier League season. His Italy side at Euro 2016 were brilliant to watch too.

“Conte’s teams can be very good to play in if you’re a striker and very exciting too, so I’m sure Kane will be pleased by the change and we’ll see some improvement in him.”

Sky Sports News reporter Ben Ransom added: “I look back at what Conte did with Romelu Lukaku at Inter Milan and the impact he had on his career.

“There was a player who had been in the Premier League, was slightly short on confidence and getting questioned from all quarters, and he has re-invented himself through working with Conte. Now he’s regarded as one of the elite strikers in world football.

“He can have a similar impact on Kane and reinvigorate him and hopefully he can just make them more interesting to watch. Nine goals in 10 Premier League games – that’s abysmal for a team with Kane and Heung-Min Son.”

Tottenham fixtures: What’s coming up for Conte?

November 4: Tottenham vs Vitesse Arnhem – Europa Conference League, kick-off 8pm

November 7: Everton vs Tottenham – Premier League, kick-off 7pm

November 21: Tottenham vs Leeds – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports

November 25: NS Mura vs Tottenham – Europa Conference League, kick-off 5.45pm

November 28: Burnley vs Tottenham – Premier League, kick-off 2pm

December 2: Tottenham vs Brentford – Premier League, kick-off 7.30pm

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