“I trust a lot in the old players — and in this moment they are more reliable than the new ones,” said the Spurs head coach, explaining why he named none of his new additions in the starting XI for Saturday’s 4-1 win.
The half-dozen new faces were signed to transform Conte’s options, but on this weekend’s evidence he is likely to stick with a tried and tested formula until the midweek fixtures begin in September.
Every Conte player must undertake a rigorous process of assimilation before they are trusted by the Italian, who spent the first two months of his Spurs tenure assessing his squad, deciding which players he could rely on to carry out his orders and which he could not.
Having sorted the Tanguy Ndombeles from the Eric Diers, Conte’s Spurs clicked into a menacing gear from late February onwards, barring blips against Brighton and Brentford in April.
As far as Conte is concerned, Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma, Richarlison, Clement Lenglet and Djed Spence still need to complete the same process of improving their fitness and learning the tenets of his philosophy before they ready for the starting XI.
“The new players need to continue to work with us and continue to implement knowledge,” Conte said. “With the old players, I am a step ahead. For this reason, I preferred to count on the older players.”
Of the new signings, Perisic is the likeliest to come in against Chelsea on Sunday, by virtue of having already worked under Conte at Inter Milan.
The Croatian, 33, has been through this gruelling process before and knows the basics of Conte-ball and exactly what the head coach demands of his wing-backs.
There is, however, no guarantee of Perisic dislodging Ryan Sessegnon at Stamford Bridge, after the 21-year-old’s equalising goal in a breakthrough performance against Saints, and it was surely no coincidence that Spurs’ four standout players were all those facing the fiercest competition from new signings.
Dejan Kulusevski appeared most at risk from Richarlison’s arrival but was the best player on the pitch, creating Spurs’ first goal for Sessegnon and scoring their fourth with a trademark finish.
Kulusevski’s form since February has, arguably, gone under the radar, perhaps because he is playing alongside the only two players in the Premier League with more combined top-flight goals and assists since his debut: Harry Kane and Heung-min Son.
Watching the 22-year-old Swede on Saturday, you wonder if he is the Novak Djokovic to Kane’s Roger Federer and Son’s Rafael Nadal, ready to turn the big two into a colossal three. Richarlison, Spurs’ record £60million signing, may have to settle for being Andy Murray.
Emerson Royal, who is facing increased competition from Spence at right wing-back, recovered from a shaky start to register two assists in as many minutes in the second half, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was excellent in midfield.
The Dane has started all but two Premier League games since joining the club two summers ago but his constant presence has, at times, been as much down to necessity as merit. This season, Bissouma and Oliver Skipp should create fierce competition in Conte’s engine room.
This is what Conte is aiming for at Spurs, two good players in each position. When his new signings are finally up to speed, only Hugo Lloris, Kane, Son and perhaps Cristian Romero will be guaranteed a starting place, and everyone will have to keep striving to impress and improve.
Spurs may continue to look familiar for the next few weeks but a glance at Conte’s bench on the final day of last season underlines the difference their summer signings have already made.
“We finished last season with maybe 13 [senior] players,” Conte said.
“We were lucky not to have [more] injuries because we lost Skippy and [Japghet] Tanganga. Our first target was to improve the squad and the numerical aspect and quality aspect. To play for competition. If we want to try to be competitive and stronger than last season, we need to have a squad.”