What Antonio Conte wants – and the Spurs players who provide it

·19-min read
Eric Dier and Antonio Conte - Vincent Mignott/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Eric Dier and Antonio Conte - Vincent Mignott/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

After a smooth, accomplished, largely untroubled victory over Southampton (scroll down for the match report), Antonio Conte gave a hint of the direction he wanted Tottenham to travel. What he wanted, he said, were players who fit into his system.

“The characteristic is to play intensive football,” was how he defined the Conte way. “Strong, solid, a good engine. To run a lot. To bring intensity to the game.”

And those characteristics were writ large as his team achieved their biggest opening day victory since 1986.

'A good engine' - Ryan Sessegnon

Since he signed from Fulham in 2019, Ryan Sessegnon has been plagued by niggles and injuries which have restricted him to just 22 starts. Against Southampton, he finally showed Spurs supporters what he might do. Full of energy and running at left wing back, he scored his first league goal for the club and had another ruled out for offside. This is a player who has benefitted mightily from Conte’s intensive training system.

“First of all we are working very well with him, especially on the physical aspect,” the manager explained. “He had many injuries. Now he is working well and we are giving him stability.”

What the manager would have liked even more is the manner in which Sessegnon had clearly followed instruction. His goal, arriving at the far post to head home Dejan Kulusevski’s invitation of a cross, was one choreographed on the training ground. Not that the ever demanding Conte was entirely satisfied with his wingback’s display.

“He has potential. Now he has to show it.”

'Strong, solid' - Eric Dier

Eric Dier looked like a player adrift before Conte arrived at Tottenham. His 2018 World Cup form had evaporated under Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo. Conte has revived him. Playing in the middle of a back three, he has become the rock around which the Conte team shape is anchored. Watching him in this sort of imperious form it is hard to see how Gareth Southgate, who favours a similar defensive shape to Conte, could not use the player in the same way in Qatar.

'Bringing intensity to the game' - Dejan Kulusevski

For Conte, intensity does not simply mean harassing the opposition when out of possession. It means when his team has the ball, playing it forward quickly and intelligently to put the opposition on the back foot. And against Southampton no-one did that better than Dejan Kulusevski.

The player who appeared most vulnerable to being replaced by a summer signing, the Swede gave a star turn against Ralph Hassenhutl’s side. Watching the speed and precision of his passing, as well as his beautifully taken goal, it is hard to make the argument that Richarlison offers more.

Admittedly against a defence that you do not have to be Mystic Meg to predict will struggle this season, he was relentless in his effort. This was the third time he had scored and assisted in a Spurs game. And he has only been at the club six months. But whatever his achievement, like all the Spurs players, he knows the only way to stay in the team is to do precisely what his manager wants to see.

“I have to keep scoring these goals,” he explained. “Me, I have to grow. I have to get better in every way.”

Premier League live: Score and latest updates from all the fixtures  - GETTY IMAGES
Premier League live: Score and latest updates from all the fixtures - GETTY IMAGES

'Run a lot' - Emerson Royal

Emerson Royal is another player whose place in the starting line up appeared under threat from one of Conte’s summer buys. Djed Spence was assumed to have been brought in to resolve an issue at right back. Because anyone who had seen Emerson play under Nuno had long since reckoned him symptomatic of the Portuguese manager’s poor recruitment.

But like Sessegnon, he has thrived under Conte’s ferocious demands. And against Southampton he was a non-stop whirl, tearing up and down the right flank, providing the kind of passes that seemed beyond his capabilities when he first arrived. Indeed the way he played insisted that, as manager, Conte does more than simply buy in players to fit his system: he improves those he inherits too.

No wonder the Spurs fans sing his name with such insistence. They know, with him in charge, they have a chance. Now all they need is for him to stick around.

Spurs underline title credentials with free-flowing win over Southampton

By Jim White

With a comfortable, comprehensive and ultimately rather easy win over Southampton, Tottenham demonstrated that pre-season predictions suggesting they might make a charge on the title were not entirely far-fetched.

This was one of those afternoons when everything went right for Antonio Conte, whose team selection, tactics and preparation worked to perfection, with his side scoring four goals, none of which, notably, came from Harry Kane or Son Heung-min.

After beasting his players in pre-season, Conte maintained his old-school approach to management by putting his new signings on the bench. Six of them were paraded before kick off, but none of them started. True, Richarlison is serving a ban for chucking a flare into the crowd last season, but you suspect, however, even had he been available, he would have been obliged to wait his turn. That is the way Conte works.

“I think I use common sense,” he said of his approach to his recruits. “They have to know they have to fight. They have to give me the possibility to make rotation.”

Conte expects his players to scrap for everything and Spurs began as if they were more than aware of his expectations: they attacked at will.

On the three previous times Ralph Hasenhuttl had sent out a Southampton team for their first game of the season, he had lost. The presumption was they were ripe for a hammering, particularly as Hasenhuttl – in full hipster combination of collar and tie, waistcoat and trainers without socks – handed 20-year-old Irish international Gavin Bazunu a Premier League debut in goal.

But then, entirely against the run of play, his team scored. After just 12 minutes, Moussa Djnepo feinted and jinked to the byline, sending Cristian Romero the wrong way. He then stood up a neat reverse pass to James Ward-Prowse, lurking on the edge of the box. There is no one else at whose feet a Southampton fan would wish the ball to land than their captain. And he duly shaped his body perfectly to meet the cross with a volley into the ground that bounced up beyond Hugo Lloris into the corner of the net.

James Ward-Prowse of Southampton scores a goal to make it 0-1 during the Premier League match - GETTY IMAGES
James Ward-Prowse of Southampton scores a goal to make it 0-1 during the Premier League match - GETTY IMAGES

Spurs looked a little affronted by such insolence; as if all that work over the summer should never have put them in this position. And they were soon back in contention, their wing-backs breaking at every opportunity. First, Son had a shot well saved by Bazunu, then Dejan Kulusevski sent over a superb cross that evaded everyone except Ryan Sessegnon, charging in at the far post, and he put a hammer-blow header past Bazunu.

“If I hadn’t scored that I think he would have killed me, to be honest,” the defender said of his manager. “There was a moment a couple of minutes earlier when Dejan cut back and I arrived too late and I knew I couldn’t arrive too late the next time he did it.”

Conte smiled when his player’s talk of severe punishment was put to him.

Not that his answer will have entirely alleviated Sessegnon’s fears.

“We celebrated a lot this goal,” he said. “Because five minutes before he was not in the right place to score. He has great potential but has to show it.”

After that goal, Spurs were soon back where they felt they should have been: in the ascendant. A corner was not  cleared properly; Son picked it up and crossed and Eric Dier stooped and deftly headed the ball home.

It was a really cunning effort, carefully transferring the weight of Son’s cross and totally bemusing poor Bazunu in the Southampton goal.

It was not his strike, though, that made you think Dier is destined to be at the centre of Gareth Southgate’s World Cup plans. It was his tactical awareness, his passing, his organisational skills; he is another thriving in Conte’s defensive system. If you are going to play with three at the back, as Southgate favours, he is surely a shoo-in.

Eric Dier of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring their side's second goal - GETTY IMAGES
Eric Dier of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring their side's second goal - GETTY IMAGES

Not that he had much to do once Spurs were in the lead. And they should have had more. Son danced across the front of the Southampton area, the crowd on its feet anticipating a shot. He dummied, he faked, he shimmied, but when his strike finally came it sailed over the bar.

“It felt a little like the opponent switched into the next gear and we couldn’t follow,” was Hasenhuttl’s glum assessment. “It was frustrating to see how big the gap was between the two teams to be honest.”

The Southampton manager tried to spark a response, replacing one Armstrong (Adam) with another (Stuart) in a bid to stretch the Spurs back line, but this game was only heading one way.

With Kulusevski full of intelligence and purpose, constantly probing, his passes loaded with threat, Spurs were dominant. A horrible own goal by Mohammed Salisu, turning in an Emerson Royal cross that was heading nowhere, was followed by Kulusevski getting just reward for his efforts by arcing a shot into the corner. It all compounded Southampton’s sense this was not to be their afternoon. Nor, on this evidence, is it likely to be their season.

As for Spurs, their fans were given some encouragement that they should have real hope in the league this season after so many false dawns.

Premier League 3pm kick-offs: As they happened

04:55 PM

Confirmed full time results in the Premier League today

  • Fulham 2 Liverpool 2

  • Bournemouth 2 Aston Villa 0

  • Leeds United 2 Wolves 1

  • Newcastle United 2 Nottingham Forest 0

  • Tottenham 4 Southampton 1

04:45 PM

Another Tottenham debut

Yves Bissouma is on for the closing stages, alongside defender Clement Lenglet.

04:40 PM

GOAL! Moore doubles Bournemouth's lead

What a poor result this is for Steven Gerrard's team. Kieffer Moore has made it 2-0 in the 80th minute, and after being written off this is a dream start for Bournemouth.

04:38 PM

GOAL! Newcastle have surely sealed the points

It's a classic piece of Callum Wilson movement and a wonderful finish in the box to put Newcastle two up in the 78th minute.

04:35 PM

GOAL! Leeds have their noses in front

Bamford flashed a ball across goal and there was £25 summer signing Aaronson was there to turn home from close range in the 74th minute.

04:28 PM

A creative force for Spurs

04:27 PM

70 minutes: Tottenham 4 Southampton 1

Ryan Sessegnon has departed to a huge ovation from the home fans, and Ivan Perisic is on for his Tottenham debut. A good day at the office for Conte and his players so far.

04:25 PM

65 minutes: Newcastle United 1 Nottingham Forest 0

Surridge has missed a decent chance for Forest, their best opportunity after being pushed back in their own half for most of the game.

04:21 PM

GOAL! Kulusevski makes it four

Spurs scored goals in bursts last season and they are doing it again. Emerson cuts back for Kulusevski and he finishes to make in 4-1 in the 63rd minute. Southampton are falling apart defensively.

 Tottenham Hotspur's Dejan Kulusevski celebrates scoring their fourth goal - REUTERS
Tottenham Hotspur's Dejan Kulusevski celebrates scoring their fourth goal - REUTERS

04:19 PM

GOAL! Tottenham have their third goal on the hour

It's a horrible mistake from Salisu, scuffing a harmless cross into his own net and that is surely the three points in the bag for Conte's Spurs.

04:18 PM

GOAL! Schar's strike from distance gives Newcastle the lead

What a dig from the centre-back from 25 yards out. Newcastle's weight of pressure finally tells and the Forest resistance is broken. Dean Henderson no chance, not even in his own head.

Newcastle United's Fabian Schar celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates as Nottingham Forest's Jesse Lingard - Reuters
Newcastle United's Fabian Schar celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates as Nottingham Forest's Jesse Lingard - Reuters

04:15 PM

55 minutes: Leeds United 1 Wolves 1

The away team threaten after a fantastic piece of skill from Neto but Podence's shot is blocked. It has been an open game at Elland Road.

04:12 PM

54 minutes: Bournemouth 1 Villa 0

The home side are enjoying some pressure with consecutive corners but Martinez commands his area well to claim the ball. Not much happening going forward for Villa.

04:08 PM

49 minutes: Bournemouth 1 Villa 0

Steven Gerrard has also made a change at the break with Emi Buendia on for Jacob Ramsey. An opening weekend defeat at Bournemouth would be a bit of a blow for Villa.

04:07 PM

48 minutes: Tottenham 2 Southampton 1

Just like at the end of the first half, Spurs are threatening a third goal but the flag goes up for offside. Stephens has replaced Valery at the back for Southampton.

04:06 PM

We are back under way around the grounds!

Let's hope for more goals in the second period.

03:54 PM

HALF TIME: Bournemouth 1-0 Aston Villa

After concerns about their readiness for the season, the hosts lead at the break.

Plenty of options on the Villa bench if Gerrard wants to change things though.

03:52 PM

HALF TIME: Newcastle 0 Nottingham Forest 0

The only match that is goalless. The hosts have dominated but failed to capitalise.

premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest  - PA
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest - PA

03:51 PM

HALF TIME: Leeds 1 Wolves 1

The hosts finish the half on top with Harrison playing very well. Sa has not been good for Wolves in the opening 45 mins.

03:50 PM

HALF TIME: Tottenham 2 Southampton 1

The hosts lead at the break. Dier's goal puts his team in front after Ward-Prowse gave the visitors the lead.

Can the away side continue to keep Son and Kane quiet?

03:46 PM

44 mins: Leeds 1 Wolves 1

Another shaky moment for Sa. He loses the ball carelessly, Bamford tees up Harrison but he can't get his shot on target.

03:42 PM

39 mins: Newcastle 0 Nottingham Forest 0

O'Brien slips in Lingard whose shot from inside the area is blocked by Schar. Williams then volleys wide the rebound.

03:35 PM

34 mins: Bournemouth 1 Aston Villa 0

Bournemouth continue to lead. Early pressure on Villa boss Steven Gerrard to turn this situation around after a busy summer in the transfer market.

03:34 PM

31 mins: Tottenham 2 Southampton 1 GOAL Dier

The hosts turn the match around. Son crosses from out wide on the left, Dier makes the run and his touch goes in at the far post.

That was Dier's first goal in three years.

premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest  - GETTY IMAGES
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest - GETTY IMAGES

03:31 PM

King of assists

03:30 PM

27 mins: Newcastle 0 Nottingham Forest 0

It remains goalless at St James' Park but the host should be ahead.

Almirón does brilliantly on the right before crossing into the box but Saint-Maximin can't get a clean connection on the header. The ball then comes out to Bruno whose low shot goes wide.

03:26 PM

24 mins: Leeds 1 Wolves 1 GOAL Rodrigo

Equaliser at Elland Road. Wolves give the ball away carelessly. The Spaniard picks up the ball and drills a shot past Sa.

Sa should have done much better with that.

03:23 PM

21 mins: Tottenham 1 Southampton 1 GOAL Sessegnon

Kulusevski picks up the ball on the right and whips in a cross to the far post. Sessegnon beats Walker-Peters to ball and heads in.

03:18 PM

Leeds denied penalty

Kristensen is clattered by Jose Sa. The referee lets play go on, Leeds appeal and he eventually stops it for the head injury.

Var check the incident but opts to not give Leeds a penalty.

03:14 PM

Fast start...

03:13 PM

12 mins: Tottenham 0 Southampton 1 GOAL Ward-Prowse

Captain JWP with a fine finish past Lloris. A shock scoreline in north London.

premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest - REUTERS
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest - REUTERS

03:09 PM

6 mins: Leeds 0 Wolves 1 GOAL Podence

Another early goal, this time at Elland Road. Poor defending by the hosts allows Hwang Hee-Chan space to head back to Podence, who shoots past Meslier.

03:03 PM

2 mins: Bournemouth 1 Aston Villa 0 GOAL Lerma

Incredible start to the season by the hosts. Villa failed to clear a corner and Lerma lashes in from just inside the penalty box after two minutes.

03:00 PM

Here we go!

We are underway in the Premier League 3pm kick offs

02:59 PM

Intriguing match at St James' Park

Can Forest make a strong start on their return to the Premier League? Will Newcastle continue their fine form from the end of last season?

02:46 PM

Kick off is 15 minutes away...

premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest  - GETTY IMAGES
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest - GETTY IMAGES
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest  - GETTY IMAGES
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest - GETTY IMAGES
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest  - REUTERS
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest - REUTERS
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest  - REUTERS
premier league results live score spurs leeds nottingham forest latest - REUTERS

02:36 PM

Aston Villa XI to play Bournemouth

02:34 PM

Bournemouth XI to play Aston Villa

02:33 PM

Wolves XI to play Leeds United

02:31 PM

Leeeds United XI to play Wolves

02:29 PM

Nottingham Forest XI to play Newcastle United

02:28 PM

Newcastle United XI to play Nottingham Forest

02:27 PM

Southampton XI to play Tottenham

02:25 PM

Tottenham XI to play Southampton

02:22 PM

Team news from around the grounds

The starting XI's from the Premier League coming up!

02:13 PM

The Premier League is back!

Hello and welcome to coverage of the 3pm kick offs on the opening weekend of the 2022/23 Premier League season.

Last night, Arsenal made a promising start by beating Crystal Palace 2-0 and now their north London rivals get their campaign underway today. Antonio Conte has made some useful additions to his Spurs side, which finished fourth last term and will expect three points from the visit of Southampton.

Meanwhile, former European champions Nottingham Forest are back in the Premier League after a 23-year absence and mark their return with a difficult test at Newcastle United who enjoyed a fine second half to last season. Forest will arrive at Newcastle with a new-look team after bringing in 12 players but manager Steve Cooper said the club have not yet completed their transfer business.

Midfielder Jesse Lingard joined on a free transfer and goalkeeper Dean Henderson arrived on loan from Manchester United, while Forest also broke their transfer record to sign Nigeria forward Taiwo Awoniyi from Union Berlin for a reported £17 million pounds.

"I think there will be more ins and outs," Cooper said. "It's not a straightforward process in bringing a player in, I don't know in terms of numbers. "If I'm being honest, we would have liked to have carried on with a large part of the team from last year and just added where we thought we needed to add to compete at the level, but that was never going to be the case.

"We had no alternative than to make the amount of changes that we've had to make - and are continuing to do so."

Elsewhere, Liam Cooper, Luis Sinisterra and Dan James are among the absentees for Leeds' Premier League opener against Wolves. And Wolves will be without key striker Raul Jimenez and winger Adama Traore, who are both expected to miss the first two league games.

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard has challenged his team to step up their game and aim for a top-half finish after receiving the backing of the Premier League club's owners in the transfer market. Villa have signed five players, including Philippe Coutinho on a permanent transfer from Barcelona, in the close season as they look to better their 14th-placed finish from last year.

"It's about walking the walk now. It's very difficult to gauge in pre-season whether you've improved or not... but finishing 14th wasn't acceptable," Gerrard told reporters ahead of their opener at Bournemouth later on Saturday.

"I made that pretty clear to the players and we are looking for a better level of consistency, and we want to be operating in the top half of the table. We also want to have better cup runs. We need to give our fans more."