Opinion: My thoughts on Conte’s start, new formation, and two halves vs Leeds

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Antonio Conte
Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur secured their first Premier League win under Antonio Conte last night, now going three games unbeaten with the Italian at the helm. So, what is going right in North London and what do the Spurs players still have to work on?

I’m not sure there has ever been a bigger disparity between Tottenham in the first half and Tottenham in the second half as we saw yesterday. Let’s take a look at some of the stats just to highlight the difference:

First half:

  • 2 attempts
  • 0 on target
  • 0.06 expected goals
  • 5 touches in Leeds box
  • Outran Leeds by 0.5km

Second half:

  • 11 attempts
  • 4 on target
  • Hit the post 3 times
  • 2 goals
  • 2.07 expected goals
  • 18 touches in Leeds box
  • Outran Leeds by 3.7km

However, I was not particularly worried while I was watching the game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the first half, and was certainly even less worried in the second. It felt very much as though the poor performance was, strangely enough, by design.

Leeds United famously press high, get in your face, and bomb forward at the drop of a penny. If you try to go toe-to-toe with them over 90 minutes, you either have to play extremely well or you have to work even harder than them. Both were going to be tricky for Spurs.

Conte has only been in the job for three weeks. Two of those were over the international break. So he has only actually had his full squad together for around a week. And during that time, he has been working them extremely hard, likely with his famous double training sessions.

Going from how Tottenham were playing/training before under Nuno and Jose to how they are being asked to play/train how… it’s a huge step up. With that is going to come pretty severe fatigue in the short-term, especially with the winter fixtures coming thick and fast.

To be honest, this is likely why Conte rarely ever joins a club mid-way through a season. His whole gameplan relies on a fit squad, which pre-season is perfect for implementing. He did not have that at Tottenham, so these first few weeks are going to be like a mini pre-season.

I suspected that Spurs were taking it easy and letting Leeds have most of the ball, hoping they could get into half-time at 0-0. Of course, they still would have been looking to cause Bielsa’s men some more trouble with the ball at their feet too.

Unfortunately, Leeds scored through Dan James and went into the break 1-0 down. People seemed to think that Conte gave the players a kick up the bum and that’s why we were suddenly great in the second 45. However, I think it was his plan all along.

In fact, he essentially confirmed it in his post-match press conference. He was worried that Spurs would not yet be able to keep up with Leeds’ work rate and intensity over 90 minutes, hinting that Tottenham took it easy in the first half to give them the best chance of winning.

He then said that he made some tactical changes at half-time, essentially hitting the ‘go’ button on how he actually wants his Tottenham team to play. Think of the first 45 as charging the batteries and the second half as putting the pedal down to the floor.

That is why we suddenly saw the wing-backs pushed twenty yards further up the pitch. We saw the likes of Kane, Son and Moura pressing. We saw Winks and Hojbjerg getting in the faces of the Leeds midfield. We even saw Ben Davies pushing up and going through on goal.

The second-half performance had all the hallmarks of an Antonio Conte team. It just seems as though the fitness is not there yet to play this way for a full 90, so Conte decided to ease his way in rather than go all out early and tire later. In the end… it worked.

So for those worried or even the ones who booed at half-time, I would not sweat on the first-half performance. I think Conte and the players know it was poor, but it was kind of a sacrifice worth taking in order to present the best chance of three points.

What perhaps would worry him is that some Tottenham players were not good enough on the ball under pressure when trying to keep the game at a low tempo, but I’m sure that will only improve with training. Plus, he will want to up the tempo as he goes anyway so.

Concentrating on that second-half performance, wasn’t it great to see?! Reguilon was bombing up and down. Moura was getting more space to turn and run. Kane and Son were in the box more rather than dropping deep. Hojbjerg and Winks were getting forward. The CBs were stepping up.

I think Reguilon in particular showed he is going to be well-suited to this Conte side. He has such great energy down that left and a wicked delivery once he gets in behind. What’s more exciting is that he has SO much to improve on, yet still got MOTM. The ceiling is high.

On the other side, I think Emerson definitely has a place in this team. I’m just not sure if he is a better RCB or RWB yet. If he is to be the senior RWB, he needs to be getting in more advanced crossing/assisting/scoring positions. Of course he needs time to adapt and we’ll see.

The one thing the team did feel as though it was missing was a creative central midfield. The few times Kane dropped deep and swept passes in behind to the full-backs was glorious. Imagine a playmaker there to do that while Kane is able to stay in the box!

Could we see a move to two up front and a number ten? Ndombele, Lo Celso, Dele Alli… maybe. Son is certainly one of those struggling with his new position and moving to a front two would surely get the best out of him and Kane so I would not be surprised to see it.

A quick word on the central defenders too. Ben Davies is finally playing in his best position and we are seeing great consistency from him. I thought Eric Dier was superb in the central role and Tanganga also seems perfectly suited to RCB, as well as Sanchez. Lots of pros.

All in all, I thought it was an extremely positive performance with lots to be excited about. Although it was only 45 minutes playing the way Conte wants to play, you could already see the patterns of play and positives it will bring.

When Spurs get that up to 90 minutes, I think they are going to be a very hard team to beat and certainly a difficult team to run off the pitch, which has been happening too much over the past two years. My favourite thing under Poch was that we were fitter and stronger than everyone else, even on a bad day.

To get that back, as well as an exciting new wing-back formation under Antonio Conte, it is surely only improvements on the horizon for Tottenham Hotspur. I for one am excited to see how some of the other players like Sess, Rodon, Doherty, Tanguy and Bergwijn get on come Thursday.

An exciting and promising time to be a Spurs fan, finally, me thinks. And with Conte conducting the crowd, installing some much-needed passion and flair into the Lilywhite wheels, the future could once again be bright. I hope.

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