Tottenham I have got Champions League He started his career at his best today with a 2-0 win over Marseille at Tottenham Hotspur. He wasn’t the prettiest of performances (I feel like I’ve said that a lot already this season) but he’s been fairly enlightening in terms of how Antonio Conte wants his team to play. The Champions League is the biggest stage, and you can learn a lot about how a team like Tottenham handle matches like this, especially when you are at home when you expect the fans to dominate them.
Here are three things we learned about Tottenham from this match.
Fans think Spurs need a pass in midfield… but Conte doesn’t agree
During most of this match, Spurs were begging for a midfielder who could break the pressure and carry the ball across the middle of the field or pass through it. It wasn’t easy. The first half ended with torpid xG from 0.21 to 0.12 in favor of Spurs. In the face of pressure and strong defense in the Marseille midfield, Tottenham didn’t generate any kind of excitement going forward… but remarkably didn’t concede anything either. It was frustrating to watch. Just passing the ball, right? Put someone out there who can just… do this thing!
But Conte doesn’t seem to think so. This season in particular, Spurs have developed into a strong defensive side that is prepared to absorb and neutralize opponents’ attacks, capable of counter-strike and trying to advance quickly across the wings and into space when the opportunity presents itself (which it will inevitably do). Conti’s central intermediates (Hojbjerg, Bentancur, Bissouma, Skipp…choose any of them) are hard-wired, solid and persistent, but not creative and not particularly flashy. This isn’t Mourinhoball – he’s much better than that – but he relies on a defense-first approach, by allowing as few chances as possible while doing enough to break the match open to move forward.
In order to keep Tottenham’s quick attack under control, Spurs’ opponents are forced to overburden their midfield and press. This prevents Spurs from passing the ball to the attackers more often, and without a passing midfield, Spurs are forced far to the wing-backs to advance the ball because their midfielders will not take the players. Sometimes this works! Often times, they fade. The result is that these games look frustrating, exhausting and bad. But these teams usually have to sacrifice a striker to do so, and as we’ve seen against that Leeds And the Southamptonwhen they don’t, spurs can put them to the sword.
This was another one of those matches, and while it’s a strange thought experiment to wonder if Spurs would have made an offensive breakthrough had they not gone up a man early in the second half, once Marseille collapsed.
I feel like I need to redirect my expectations to this Tottenham team. It’s still hard for me to accept Spurs not playing so regular, exciting and progressive – especially when it seems so easy and obvious to fix! – But unlike Jose Mourinho, Conte achieved results. That’s exactly Tottenham now, and that’s how Conte wants them to be. We may just have to come to terms with him, and with the current Tottenham midfield.
Kane needs a rest
Today’s match against Marseille was definitely Harry Kane’s worst performance of the season. Kane had six shots but none on target, and while he was put off in the 78th minute at the weekend against Fulham, he faces the prospect of a trip to Manchester Within three days. Next – a Champions League match at Sporting can go a long way in defining the group.
Kane looked tired and exhausted at the end of the Marseille match and no wonder. But the schedule doesn’t stop until the World Cup, and as much as he wants, Kane can’t play every game. Conte has to find a way to get some rest for his exorcist attacker, or else Harry will end up injured or falter and that’s no use for anyone.
Richarlison creates a real headache for Conte in a good way
Richarlison. Fabulous. After several good matches in a row, including two superb performances in two, he forced himself on Conte’s starting lineup considerations, at the expense of (also good) Dejan Kulusevsky. But the two cannot be different. Deki comes with ball progression and reduction, good passes, and crosses to others. Richarlison is just a feathery brazilian bliss, lots of inside cuts from wide positions, chest smash, shoot first, ask questions, player type later. He doesn’t have the speed of Son Heung-Min’s penetration line or the complicated technique of Dickie, but he definitely knows where the target is and how to open up to find it.
Unfortunately, there is no real way to get all three of them onto the field at the same time without (hinting) Kane’s comfort. But maybe Conte should try? I honestly wonder how they’ll work together. At the very least, Richarlison’s performance establishes a merit system where all the Tottenham strikers push each other to improve constantly. this is good. And if Richarlison plays well enough to keep Ducky, or even Sonny, on the bench, that’s a really cool problem, isn’t it?