After just 124 days in charge, Tottenham Hotspur sacked manager Nuno Espírito Santo on Monday. A whirlwind 24 hours saw them appoint previous summer target, Antonio Conte. Conte joins Tottenham as one of the few managers available with real recent pedigree, having broken Juventus’ decade of dominance by winning Serie A with Inter Milan last season. The former Italy manager has also tasted success in England, winning the Premier League title with Chelsea in 2016/17, as well as the FA Cup the following season.
Conte is a notoriously demanding manager with extremely high standards and he won’t have accepted the job unless certain promises were made by Spurs Chairman, Daniel Levy. With Conte’s appointment there will now be an air of expectation surrounding transfers and, with the January transfer window fast approaching, Tottenham have no time to waste in identifying potential signings.
Conte is renowned for instant success wherever he goes and this could be where the relationship at Tottenham breaks down. There must be realistic expectations from Conte, Levy, and the Spurs fans on how quickly Conte can achieve success, as well as what would actually be perceived as success. It could be argued that England is home to three of the four best teams in the world currently in Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea; with Bayern Munich also in the top four. Therefore, a title charge is already beyond reach this season but top four, and a return to Champions League football, must be the target. Tottenham are currently ninth in the league, five points off the top four, after ten games. They are third in their Europa Conference League group, in the quarter finals of the Carabao Cup, and still have the FA Cup campaign to start in January. Despite their poor start to the season, there is still plenty of football to be played, and with Conte’s appointment there should be plenty of belief that the club can have a good season.
While there will no doubt be plenty of talk of January signings, until then Conte must make do with the players he currently has at his disposal, starting with a Europa Conference League fixture against Vitesse this Thursday. This can be seen as a dress rehearsal for Conte’s first league game in charge on Sunday, against a struggling Everton side. This post looks at the two systems Conte could use, and how the Tottenham players fit into each system.
Tottenham’s biggest problem this season has been scoring. They have managed just nine goals in ten league games, with talisman Harry Kane only managing to find the net once. Under Espírito Santo they have struggled to get their attacking players involved in the right areas and Kane, in particular, has been starved of service. Whether on instruction or of his own accord, Kane has been dropping deeper and deeper to get touches of the ball and subsequently Spurs have lacked a cutting edge up top. Whether Kane’s very public desire to join Manchester City in the summer has effected his form or whether he has just become disillusioned at life at Tottenham is something only he knows the answer to, but Conte must find a way to get Kane involved higher up the pitch. Using this formation last season Inter scored 89 goals in their 38 Serie A games. It allowed the two main strikers, Romelu Lukaku and Lautoro Martinez, the springboard to score 24 and 17 league goals respectively. Kane and Son have shown in previous seasons that they are more than capable of matching these numbers if they are used in the right way and Conte will be very aware of their abilities.
If Kane’s concerns centred around a lack of ambition at the club, the appointment of Conte could go some distance to resolving that. Conte has found success using two similar formations based on the personal he has available to him. The first is 3412, which worked so well for him at Inter Milan last season. This system could be the best way of getting the best out of Kane. By partnering him up front with Heung Min Son, there is less focus on Kane as the sole focal point of attacks and Son’s pace in behind can compliment Kane’s ability on the ball and tendency to drop deeper to create.
This system may rely heavily on Conte’s view of Tanguy Ndombele. An immensely talented player who divides opinion, if Conte likes Ndombele then he could become the creative force just behind Kane and Son. However, if Conte doesn’t view the Frenchman as the man to unlock opposition defences then it could be a tough spell for Ndombele, as it is unlikely Conte would trust him in a deeper role where he prefers solid and reliable players. Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg are likely to be the pair that provide that solid base to the midfield, allowing those ahead of them more freedom. If Conte wants a more industrious player to play in the advanced midfield position then he could sacrifice some of Ndombele’s creativity in favour of Argentinian Giovani Lo Celso. Against better opposition Lo Celso could also get the nod, as the midfield becomes more of a flat three than one advanced midfielder ahead of the other two.
In defence, Conte always prefers three central defenders, along with two wing backs who are tasked with providing the width for his sides. Sergio Reguilon is the natural player to take up the left wing-back spot and it is likely that summer signing, Emerson Royal, will slot into the right wing-back slot. However, Matt Doherty may see this as a chance to revive his career, as he made his name playing as a wing-back for Wolves. Who Conte fancies as his centre backs will be interesting to see, and it’s highly likely this will be one of the first areas he looks to strengthen when the transfer window opens. Cristian Romero should play as the central defender of the three, with the other two positions up for grabs. Initially, at least, this is expected to be Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez, but Japhet Tanganga could also provide a very good option in a back three, particularly with his recovery pace.
The other system that Conte has favoured in the past is 3421. This is the formation that the ex-Italy boss found success with at Tottenham’s rivals Chelsea. It’s a system that focuses on creativity from the two players operating as inverted wingers. For Chelsea, under Conte, this was usually Eden Hazard and one of either Pedro or Willian. If Spurs use this formation Conte has options too. It’s inconceivable that Son doesn’t start as one of the two, but the other spot could be taken by any of Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn, or Bryan Gil. It is anticipated Moura will be given the opportunity to make the position his own at first, due to his work rate and blistering pace; but should his output be underwhelming this could change.
It may benefit Kane to have two fast players making runs in behind rather than just the one in the 3412 system. With two players creating space and stretching defences, Kane is likely to be able to find more space in the final third, and particularly in the box, where he has really struggled for touches this season. If defenders are constantly worrying about where Moura and Son are running then chances should become more frequent for the striker. One of the notable features of both of Conte’s preferred systems is that the wing-backs will constantly provide the width and stretch the pitch. This leads to plenty of crosses, which should also benefit Kane immensely. If the 28 year-old’s attitude is right he should soon turn around his goalscoring woes this season.
Further back, there are unlikely to be many changes between the two systems. The midfield base doesn’t change between the two formations and Skipp and Højbjerg will have the unenviable task of trying to match what Nemanja Matic and Ngolo Kante did so effectively at Chelsea. The defence will also remain the same, while club captain, Hugo Lloris, will retain the number one shirt.
What system Conte deems appropriate for this group of players remains to be seen. It’s not unthinkable that he utilises both, at least in the opening weeks of his tenure, to see which he should use going forward. While there will be a great deal of focus on the January transfer window, this does present a number of players with the opportunity to show their qualities, after a period of underperforming from the majority of this Spurs squad. The key will be getting Kane firing again and tightening up a leaky defence. Conte has his work cut out, but if anyone can get Tottenham back into the Champions League it is the man who has won five league titles in Italy and England.