Tottenham Hotspur beat Everton 2-0 on Saturday to draw level on points with second-place Manchester City in the Premier League.
A second-half penalty by Harry Kane and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s late effort sealed the points that took Tottenham to 23 points from their opening 10 league games. It’s Tottenham’s best ever points haul after 10 games of a Premier League campaign.
Conventional wisdom and common sense might dictate that an Erling Haaland-inspired Manchester City should be farming the league, but after 10 games to the season, they sit on the same point with Antonio Conte’s side.
Despite this, Antonio Conte’s reactive football, refuting the importance of possession and territory has been labeled not ‘good enough’ and ‘boring’, hence the suspicion continues to greet Spurs wins regularly labelled as ‘unconvincing’.
But are Tottenham really an unknown entity, or are we just missing the point of what Conte has built?
Conte’s Tactical Ideas are in Full Flow
Spurs don’t dominate matches – and they don’t want to. In broad terms Conte wants to make use of transitions to attack quickly rather than meticulously break down an opponent by penning them in with possession and territory.
Speaking after his first home game in charge of Brighton, Roberto De Zerbi cut a frustrated figure.
“”I must admit the result today is not fair,” he said as his side fell to defeat against Tottenham.
“I don’t believe in lucky or unlucky. I don’t want to speak about Tottenham. “There is only one team which deserved to win, the players of Brighton were fantastic today.”
And he wasn’t referring to the one which did. The Italian had looked increasingly exasperated on the touchline as his team dominated possession, throwing wave after wave of attacks at the Tottenham backline, only to be thwarted time and again.
Indeed he may not be the last this season to feel aggrieved at defeat to Spurs. But this is how Conte wants his side to be: first and foremost hard to beat.
That was the 54th successive occasion in which Conte had won a Premier League game after taking the lead at half time: no-one knows how to defend a lead like him
Whatever De Zerbi’s analysis, the truth was, had Son been more clinical, Conte’s side had the breakaway opportunities to have won by more.
Conte deploys a lower block and rarely presses high up the pitch, which invites the opposition forward and lures them into a vulnerable position while ensuring his team’s shape is defensively secure.
After Manchester City’s 3-2 defeat to Tottenham in February, Pep Guardiola said that Spurs were “deep and compact” and “created a lot of space to run on the counter-attack”.
So far in 2022-23, Spurs have kept a much deeper shape than the other clubs in the ‘big six’, averaging much less of the ball in the final third of the pitch than those teams.
Just 19% of Spurs successful passes have ended in the final third of the pitch in the Premier League this season – that’s only higher than Bournemouth (18%). Compare that to Arsenal (30%), Chelsea (30%), Man Utd (29%), Man City (27%) and Liverpool (27%)
Possession definitely not nine-tenths of the law for Conte’s Tottenham
Possession isn’t everything, as Leicester famously demonstrated when they won the Premier League in 2015-16 despite having less of the ball than 17 clubs in the division.
Over the past five campaigns, the team that has won the Premier League title has done so with a minimum of 63 per cent possession; the last title-winning team to achieve less was Conte’s Chelsea in 2016-17.
And if you’re starting to understand Conte’s version of Spurs, you’ll have a contrary reaction, one full of promise and anticipation.
Under Conte, Tottenham are enjoying appreciable success in matches they are out-possessed. Soak up the pressure, contain, remain organized, stoic, turn the ball over via an intense, high-pressure press, then counter with lethal force.
From an attacking perspective, Conte either wants to counter-attack once the ball is won back, springing quickly forward to take advantage of the opponent’s stretched and high position.
His deeper system is to ensure the central midfielders are intelligent press-evaders capable of weaving through the lines. He has this in Rodrigo Bentancur and Yves Bissouma.
But potentially of greater significance is how Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son operate in Conte’s attack.
Conte wants to counter-attack once the ball is won back, springing quickly forward to take advantage of the opponent’s stretched and high position.
The Lilywhites have attempted 19 direct attacks this season – the most in the Premier League and only one fewer than Liverpool (11) and Man City (nine) combined.
Tottenham rank fifth in the league for shots (115), which is a reasonable placing. But by having fewer shots than their opponents, Spurs are banking on their attackers to be more clinical every time.
After Eintracht Frankfurt took the lead in north London, Kane played the ball through to Son and the South Korean curled a finish into the bottom corner to equalise, the 50th time the duo have assisted each other across all competitions.
It was a win built on the star quality up front and a partnership that Frankfurt could do nothing to stop.
“We just understand [each other] really well,” Son said.
It’s is time we stop waiting for Spurs to look ‘convincing’ in how they beat teams, and time we recalibrate what a good Tottenham performance looks like. They have the highest ‘direct speed’ among the big six and top the Premier League charts for total direct attacks, while Tottenham’s zones of control are almost entirely in their own half:
That is the central purpose of the Conte playbook: make your team hard to beat.
Chelsea's Premier League form since switching to 3-4-3:
Clean sheets: 6
All part of Conte's masterplan. pic.twitter.com/xNSZyNe7C5
— Squawka (@Squawka) December 3, 2016
ON THIS DAY: In 2016, Antonio Conte became the first Chelsea manager in history to win 11 consecutive Premier League games in a single season.
◉ 11 games
◉ 11 wins
◉ 25 goals scored
◉ 9 clean sheets
◉ 2 goals conceded
They would go on to lift the title for a 5th time. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/NFq8mctO4x
— Squawka (@Squawka) December 17, 2021
Are Conte’s teams ever going to dominate possession? No. Will they have solid defenses that can mount title challenges? Yes. Will they score plenty of goals despite not having the league’s best goal scorers? Yes. Is Conte’s system boring? No.
One of the biggest misconceptions about Conte is that he plays defensive, boring football – that’s just not true.
Conte’s a guy who is defensively solid and sound but his Juventus and Inter sides played some very attractive football. Inter scored over 100 goals two seasons in a row in all competitions under him.
He went on to stitch up a brilliant suit, as Chelsea won the Premier League with 93 points, scored 85 goals, one less than Pochettino’s Tottenham, and conceded 33, the third least in the league.
His passion on the sidelines, coupled with the fast counter-attacking football, can be intoxicating when in full flow.
Four players have been directly involved in 15+ Premier League goals in 2022:
◉ 21 – Harry Kane
◉ 21 – Son Heung-min
◎ 17 – Kevin De Bruyne
◉ 15 – Dejan Kulusevski
Three of them play for Spurs. pic.twitter.com/1THjUrOmYD
— Squawka (@Squawka) August 6, 2022
He’s very organised, he’s a system manager, he’s wants things his way and when it works it is beautiful.
Only time will tell if Tottenham will win the Premier League under Conte. There is no doubt, over the quality of the man fans affectionately call ‘Don Antonio’.
Leave a comment.