As the fifth week of Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur reign passes, the positives that have been displayed on the pitch are sadly dwarfed by the negatives off of it.
After an unbeaten start to his Premier League career with the Lilywhites, including three victories on the bounce, Conte’s plans have been put on hold as the club is dealt a COVID-19 blow that has reportedly sidelined 8 first-team players.
The outbreak will worry the Spurs coaching staff who were just beginning to see the fruition of their intensive tactical sessions with the players.
A four-time Seria A winner, Conte demands his players’ hard work and desire mirror his own. If players are half-hearted, they will not survive in a Conte team.
The current Spurs players who share Conte’s desire have been easy to identify thus far.
Eric Dier, Ben Davies, and Oliver Skipp have all played influential parts in Conte’s strong start to life in North London. The latter even resigning big-money signings Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso to the Spurs bench.
Skipp has started three out of four Premier League games since the Italian manager arrived. Missing out only on the victory over Leeds United due to a minor injury.
Just last season the 21-year-old was playing Championship football for Norwich City. Fast forward a year and he is an integral part of a Premier League side who are in touching distance of a Champions League place.
Skipp’s stint for the Canaries provided him with the necessary first-team game time he needed in order to adapt to the demands of elite football. His performances for Daniel Farke’s side even earned him an inclusion in the Championship Team of the Year.
This season, he has returned to N17 as a different animal.
His frame is noticeably stockier, meaning he is able to stand his ground and ensure he protects the ball in the heart of the Spurs midfield.
His newfound physicality seems to aid him in what is becoming his trademark action on the pitch. I am of course referring to his ability to slide in and dispossess a player and subsequently offload the ball to an open teammate.
This ability to balance aggression with guile has endeared the Spurs academy product to both his manager and the Spurs supporters.
Spurs have only conceded one Premier League goal since Conte took over. This is largely down to Skipp’s positional awareness and ability to act as a guard for the centre-backs.
Add to this his maturity, forward-thinking and urgency and it is clear to see why Antonio Conte has such high hopes for the England Under-21 international.
After Spurs’ recent victory over Norwich at N17, Conte told media that with his help, Skipp could become a “top midfielder”.
In an interview with the Evening Standard, Skipp himself admitted his pride at his manager’s comments but insisted that he could not allow himself to be carried away.
“It’s always nice to hear but I have to go out and prove it, otherwise it is just words,” he said.
Whilst he is growing game by game, it is clear that Skippy still has improvements to make in order to fulfil his potential.
Having only scored one goal in his career so far, there is always space to add goal contributions, regardless of what position he is occupying.
However, adding more regular assists is surely close to becoming a reality, as Skipp has showcased some exciting forward passing in recent weeks.
At points during the Norwich game, he received the ball from a centre-back, sprinted into space and attempted clever through balls that were only slightly off the mark.
Although he is not renowned for his creativity, it is encouraging to see him actively attempt to transform the weaker facets of his game. This serves as an example of his passion for the game and his desire to improve.
With two back-to-back Premier League Man of the Match awards, Skipp is beginning to get the wider recognition that he so thoroughly deserves.
As Jose Mourinho once hinted at to Football.London, if there is a current squad player who could feasibly captain Spurs for the next ten seasons, you would put your money on the number 29.
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