Spurs need Yves Bissouma. The problem? Antonio Conte does not trust him

Bissouma (L) Conte (R) - Spurs need Yves Bissouma. The problem? Antonio Conte doesn't trust him - GETTY IMAGES
Bissouma (L) Conte (R) - Spurs need Yves Bissouma. The problem? Antonio Conte doesn't trust him - GETTY IMAGES

A draining week of intense away fixtures for Tottenham Hotspur ends with a perilous trip to Brighton, and there is a growing feeling that something will have to change in the team. They have won just one of their six away matches this season, and a Spurs player has not scored from open play in the last four games on the road.

This week has simply heightened Antonio Conte's irritation first there was a north London derby defeat by Arsenal, and then a battling but ultimately frustrating goalless draw with Eintracht Frankfurt in the Champions League. The passes are not flowing, the attackers are not clicking and the goals are not coming.

So what can be done? In the eyes of many Spurs fans, the answer can be found on the bench, where £25million midfielder Yves Bissouma is watching the action and waiting for his chance to contribute. He played just 19 minutes against Arsenal last weekend, and did not make it onto the pitch at all in Germany on Tuesday.

Overall, Bissouma has played just 160 minutes in eight appearances, and been handed just one start - away to West Ham United when Bentancur was unavailable.

Bissouma’s lack of minutes so far has come as a surprise. At 26 years old, with four years of Premier League experience, he was regarded as a player capable of making an instant impact after joining from Brighton this summer. After all, in the last two seasons he was unquestionably one of the best players outside of the so-called ‘big six’.

Antonio Conte’s tactical system is not straightforward, though, and for Bissouma the learning curve has so far been unforgivingly steep. Conte said last month that he is “struggling a bit with the tactical aspect” and “defensively has to pay more attention”, and the Italian’s insistence on picking Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg instead is obvious proof that he does not believe Bissouma to be ready.

“The midfielder is a specific role for us, with the ball and without the ball,” explained Conte last month. “It is not simple. I ask for some moments, some positions. They have to be a point of reference in every moment of the game.”

The tactical structure of Conte’s formation is certainly more rigid than Bissouma was accustomed to at Brighton. Under Graham Potter, Brighton were one of the most flexible teams in the league over the past few years, constantly shifting their shape within and between matches. They also usually had more players in midfield, compared to Conte’s preference for a two-man central pairing.

Concerns over Bissouma’s positional discipline are not entirely new, either. Potter said last year that the midfielder’s positioning was an area he still had to improve, along with his consistency. Bissouma has always been at his best when he has been able to hurtle around the pitch, flying into challenges and bursting past opponents, but that dynamism is clearly not enough on its own when it comes to Conte’s tactical demands.

It should be said that Bissouma’s adaptation process was not helped by a bout of Covid during pre-season, which forced him to isolate in a South Korean hotel for seven days. It is also true, however, that he does not have a reputation for being the most diligent trainer.

With Dejan Kulusevski and Lucas Moura struggling with injury, and the front three of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Richarlison not gelling in recent away games, Bissouma could help to facilitate a change in shape for Spurs. The 3-4-3 could become a 3-5-2, with Bissouma playing alongside Hojbjerg and Bentancur in a three-man central midfield.

Spurs experimented with this formation briefly against Leicester City last month, to impressive effect. They were leading 3-2, in an open game, when Bissouma entered the pitch after 70 minutes. By the final whistle, it was 6-2. Spurs had suddenly become more solid, and Kane and Son were thrilling on the break.

Bissouma knows better than anyone that Brighton will pose difficult questions this weekend. Spurs might not have much of the ball, and they will face spells of pressure. In theory, Bissouma’s mobility and intensity should help them through those difficult moments. Whether Conte believes he is ready, however, is another matter entirely.