Antonio Conte fires Tottenham into life but left under no illusions after dodging debut disaster

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·4-min read
Antonio Conte fires Tottenham into life but left under no illusions after dodging debut disaster
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This was a classic welcome to Tottenham for Antonio Conte as the Italian’s first game ended with five goals, three red cards, three points and utter chaos.

Ten-man Spurs eventually beat nine-man Vitesse Arnhem after threatening to squander a 3-0 lead, which they had raced into in 28 exhilarating minutes which were quite unlike anything during the Nuno Espirito Santo era.

Spurs looked transformed by their new head coach, with Heung-min Son, Lucas Moura and a Jacob Rasmussen own goal appearing to have put them out of sight inside half an hour.

Conte has worked with his new players for just two days – while not officially allowed to take training as he waited for a working visa – but there was already evidence of his style, as Spurs pressed hard, piled men forward and overloaded a stunned Vitesse backline.

The third goal provided an illuminating snapshot of the changes Conte already been able to make, as Ben Davies, one of the most conservative Spurs players, found himself as the furthest forward before Rasmussen slid the ball over his own goal-line.

Spurs’ play going forward felt like decisive evidence of how badly they had been underperforming under Nuno.

Before the interval, though, the scale of Conte’s work appeared to be laid bare as Spurs shipped two soft goals to allow Vitesse back into the game.

After a spectacular Hugo Lloris save, Rasmussen made amends by beating Eric Dier to a corner to head home before a Lucas mistake allowed Matus Bero the chance to finish.

You wondered if Conte was about to preside over the kind of stunning collapse which has befallen these players before and was not uncommon during Jose Mourinho’s tenure.

To Spurs’ credit, they held firm in the second-half, even after Cristian Romero was sent off for a second, reckless yellow card on the hour.

Vitesse finished with nine men as Danilho Doekhi also earned a second booking of his own with ten minutes to play and, moments later, goalkeeper Markus Schubert was judged to have handled Emerson Royal’s shot outside the box, earning him a straight red card.

Defence needs work

Conte will likely have learned immediately what many have long suspected about this Spurs squad: it is top heavy, with more quality in attack than defence.

Spurs raced into a 3-0 lead, with Son, Kane and Lucas all showcasing their quality as they cut through Vitesse with a devastating display of pace and movement.

Kane still looked clunky at times but finished with two assists, the first an excellent piece of play to hold off his man and release Lucas, the second a messy miskick which was carried over the line by Rasmussen.

Son was back to his menacing best, also seeing a shot cleared off the line and striking the outside of the post, while Lucas added a welcome element of unpredictability at No10.

 (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)
(Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)

It was just so different from the Nuno era, when Spurs barely looked capable of having three shots on target per game, let alone scoring three times in 28 minutes.

Defensively, the warning signs were always there, however. Davies was twice lucky not to concede penalties in the early stages for rash challenges, while Maximilian Wittek, who scored the winner in Arnhem last month, fired a golden chance wide at 0-0 after easily finding space.

Sure enough, Spurs quickly cracked, Dier losing out to Rasmussen. For their second goal, Lucas conceded possession in a dangerous area, and it was far too easy for Bero to find space in the box and finish.

Spurs were more solid after the break, switching to a back five for the final 20 minutes, but Conte will surely make working on the defence his priority in the days and weeks ahead.

Wing-backs show promise

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

As expected, Conte switched to his preferred 3-4-1-2 system, with a back three and wing-backs.

On paper, the system suits the personnel in his new squad and, although the back three was often shaky, wing-backs Royal and Sergio Reguilon immediately benefitted from the setup.

Royal looked to get forward at every opportunity and seemed to be enjoying himself as he tried to take on his man time and again. He was often successful, although you do wonder if he has the pace to beat his full-back this often in the Premier League.

One of the Brazilian’s forays forward resulted in Schubert’s sending off as the goalkeeper rushed out to charge down Emerson’s attempted lob, which stuck the underside of his raised arm.

Reguilon does not lack speed and also thrived on the freedom of playing wide, bursting up the flank whenever he could.

At his previous clubs, Conte has adapted a midfield or forward to wing-back – Lucas or Steven Bergwijn here perhaps? – but there may be no need at Spurs. He already has two attacking full-backs who look readymade for the role.

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