Spurs’ fightback from 2-0 down was sparked by Ryan Sessegnon’s 58th-minute goal and the introductions of Rodrigo Bentancur and Eric Dier moments later, with the Uruguayan scoring the winner in stoppage time.
With tomorrow’s “final” against Marseille in the Champions League in mind, Bentancur missed out on a start for only the second time this season and Dier for the first, but another first half low on quality and intensity will only strengthen Conte’s resolve that resting his stars should remain a last resort.
Ivan Perisic, Lucas Moura and Bryan Gil also helped to raise the tempo from the bench, and Conte called his players to be nastier from the off. “In the second half, despite conceding the second goal, we started to play nasty, with a desire to hurt the opponent. To not only move the ball for show — ‘look, we are good and so nice’ — but in an effective way,” the head coach said.
Bentancur’s introduction ensured Spurs capitalised on the swing in momentum and played with a verve that proved too much for the Cherries. He provided a base for the visitors to launch wave after wave of attack, adding a mix of drive and composure to the midfield, even as Bournemouth clung on after Ben Davies’s equaliser with nearly half an hour still to play.
“He’s obviously a very good midfield player, very composed,” said Sessegnon. “You saw it with the finish, he could have easily been rash and put it over the bar but he showed composure to guide it into the net. It was a very important moment.”
The January signing from Juventus has been Spurs’ most consistent performer for several weeks now and is increasingly proving a clutch player, too; the winner was his second goal of the week after a crucial late equaliser against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday.
The 25-year-old had never previously scored in consecutive matches and, before opening his account for Spurs in the 6-2 win over Leicester in September, his last club goal was in January 2020.
While the majority of Spurs’ squad is struggling to hit top form, Bentancur is rapidly improving but, unlike some, appears to be holding nothing back for the World Cup.
“He runs everywhere,” said Sessegnon. “He probably has the lowest body fat per cent of anyone at the club. He’s a tremendous footballer, a very good athlete and very important player for us.”
Dier was excellent on the right of the back three, and Conte is expected to restore the pair to the XI in Marseille tomorrow, with Spurs needing a draw to qualify for the last-16. Dejan Kulusevski trained individually on the pitch before Saturday’s game, raising hope that he could return to the squad.
Conte will demand his players take more risks on the ball at the Stade Velodrome, which will be helped by Bentancur’s inclusion, but Harry Kane has admitted that the side is struggling to play with freedom from the start of games.
“Fitness-wise we are very strong, which could explain why we often finish games strongly,” the England captain said. “And mentally, when the players are free and we have nothing to lose, we play better — we get more people forward and keep the pressure on in the opposition half.
“That’s how it played out against Sporting in midweek and at Bournemouth it worked out in the end. We kept knocking on the door and thankfully we go through it, but it’s something we’re going to have to improve if we want to stay up towards the top of the table for the rest of the season.”