Antonio Conte momentum unchecked by break as Tottenham produce statement display against Liverpool

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  • Antonio Conte
    Antonio Conte
    Italian association football player and manager
  • Harry Kane
    Harry Kane
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Harry Winks
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Eric Dier was one of a number of Tottenham players to impress against Liverpool  (Getty Images)
Eric Dier was one of a number of Tottenham players to impress against Liverpool (Getty Images)

Even as the Premier League schedule staggers forward unconvincingly, Tottenham are continuing to make great strides under Antonio Conte.

Spurs were the first club to suffer serious disruption but they are surely among the last who would now welcome a pause to the season, as their momentum remained unchecked by a two-week break in a pulsating 2-2 draw against Liverpool yesterday.

It may not have been a first statement win under Conte but it felt like a statement performance, particularly in the unusual circumstances.

Spurs' wins over Leeds, Brentford and Norwich came with obvious caveats but yesterday they went toe-to-toe with a top side for the first time in what feels like far too long.

The contrast to their meek defeats to Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United earlier in the season was remarkable. Conte delivered a lesson in how to play against Liverpool’s high press and aggressive defensive line, and his players bubbled with energy, ideas and purpose.

Harry Kane and Heung-min Son scored, while Dele Alli, Harry Winks and Eric Dier were outstanding. It felt like 2017 again.

Having led through Kane, Spurs were inevitably made to pay for a succession of missed chances through Diogo Jota and Andy Robertson headers but Liverpool's lead lasted all of five minutes, as Son quickly hit back.

Robertson was sent off with 13 minutes to play – one of many controversies which punctuated the match – leaving Jurgen Klopp incensed.

Conte was left with mixed feelings but it showed how significantly he has realigned expectations that Spurs were frustrated with a point against Liverpool.

The Spurs head coach had painted a picture of disrupted preparation at his pre-match press conferences for yesterday's game and Thursday’s postponed visit to Leicester, so it was easy to wonder if Spurs would struggle to cope with Liverpool’s famed intensity.

Nine of Conte’s players were forced into isolation with Covid, while the rest of the squad spent an unsettling fortnight preparing for games which never took place.

Have Antonio Conte’s Spurs inadvertently benefitted from their Covid-forced break? (Getty Images)
Have Antonio Conte’s Spurs inadvertently benefitted from their Covid-forced break? (Getty Images)

Such was the competitiveness of Spurs’ performance, however, you were left wondering if they may have benefitted from the downtime.

Conte’s squad has effectively enjoyed an impromptu winter break, allowing them precious rest during what is usually the most unforgiving period of the campaign.

The players who did not return positive tests – among them Kane, Dele and Winks – have had an extended period on the training ground, allowing Conte to hammer home his ideas.

He had described the match as a “big chance” for Spurs' fringe players to prove they have a future at the club, and Dele and Winks – between them, guilty of a catalogue of false starts – rose to the challenge magnificently.

Dele fluffed his big moments, seeing a glorious chance at 1-0 up brilliantly saved by Alisson and then leaving Kane with a difficult finish against the goalkeeper when the pair escaped behind Liverpool’s defence at 1-1.

Still, it has been a long time since Dele has been so menacing against a serious opponent and his display was punctuated by the characteristic bursts into the box which made him a star.

In another sign of his returning fire, the 25-year-old appeared to spend last night liking tweets from supporters who had questioned his return to the side in uncharitable terms.

Winks, meanwhile, was full of confidence and purpose again, his role in both Tottenham goals neatly capturing a fine performance with and without the ball.

He won possession with a sliding tackle before Tanguy Ndombele released Kane for only his second League goal of the season, and Winks' ball behind Liverpool’s defence slipped through Alisson’s legs, allowing Son to roll the equaliser into an empty net.

Dele Alli was left wanting in the big moments, but still impressed on a rare start (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)
Dele Alli was left wanting in the big moments, but still impressed on a rare start (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

Conte afterwards praised the English midfielders, along with Ryan Sessegnon, who ably deputised at left wing-back on his first League start since January 2020.

Liverpool were, admittedly, missing their own stars through suspected Covid, with Thiago Alcantara joining Fabinho, Virgil van Dijk and Curtis Jones in testing positive pre-match, while Klopp felt they should have had a penalty and that Kane should have seen red for a lunge on Robertson in the first half.

Dele and Winks now face the challenge of reaching those levels consistently, a task which would be made easier if Conte continues with yesterday’s 3-5-2 formation.

The tweaked system was perhaps the result of the absence of regulars Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg but it was effective, unlocking the partnership between Kane and Son while allowing an extra body in midfield.

Conte had been tipped to switch to a more progressive midfield once he had instilled the basics in the squad but their Covid outbreak may have accelerated the process.

Watching Spurs tear into Liverpool, you wondered if Conte’s entire project may have inadvertently been given a boost in the last two weeks.

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