Tottenham players must learn to fight like Antonio Conte after timid capitulation at Chelsea

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·4-min read
Tottenham players must learn to fight like Antonio Conte after timid capitulation at Chelsea
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  • Chelsea
    Chelsea
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Antonio Conte
    Antonio Conte
    Italian association football player and manager

Tottenham sorely lacked fight in a meek and all-too-familiar capitulation at Chelsea but no one could accuse Antonio Conte of the same.

Conte offered a sobering assessment of Spurs following the 2-0 defeat in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg, describing them as a middling side and warning supporters of a long and bumpy road ahead.

The head coach delivered his post-match comments with characteristic consideration, but deep down one suspected he was seething at a humiliating return to Chelsea, which confirmed his belief in a chasm between the two clubs.

“This game confirmed what I thought about the difference between the teams but we need to have patience because there is a lot of [work] to do in many aspects,” he said. “Honestly, I think the level of Tottenham has dropped. It has dropped a lot.”

Conte insisted there would be no quick fix to Spurs’ problems and even went so far as to warn fans there would be no comfortable wins this season.

“Since I was in charge, every game we struggled,” he said. “We have to be realistic. We have to know that this season to get three points will be difficult.”

Conte is nothing if not dramatic — in press conferences, as on the touchline — and his persistent pessimism about Spurs’ chances of winning silverware or returning to the top four has occasionally appeared exaggerated during an encouraging start of eight league games without defeat.

Last night’s display, though, felt more instructive than the wins over Leeds, Brentford, Norwich, Crystal Palace and Watford, and a truer reflection of Spurs’ level than the pulsating 2-2 draw with Liverpool, when both sides were missing players.

Spurs barely laid a glove on their hosts in the first-half, as Kai Havertz and a calamitous Ben Davies own goal put Chelsea in control.

Conte’s side improved after the interval, and maintain hope of reaching consecutive finals, but the Blues were comfortable in holding them at arm’s length.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

The Italian’s suggestion that Spurs have struggled in “every game” felt overstated and should probably be interpreted as “struggled to control every game for 90 minutes” but there have been warning signs, including their laboured attempts to break down Southampton and Watford in the last two league games.

Conte was also frank when asked how long it would take to return Spurs to Chelsea’s level, predicting that it would likely be more than a year.

“Believe me, we need so much time before we [repair] the situation,” he said. “If we think, with the transfer window in January, we solve the situation, [it’s] not the truth.”

If his comments are to be taken at face value rather than interpreted as a message to the club or his squad, they raise interesting questions.

The 52-year-old is a not a project coach and he is used to winning, and winning quickly. In his last three club roles, with Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan, Conte won the title within two seasons but he appears to believe Spurs will be his first job of an entirely different nature.

Conte’s comments felt primarily aimed at the fans in the form of an impassioned appeal to stay patient.

Listening to him last night, you wondered if he was aware of the scale of the task when he was appointed or whether he signed an 18-month contract believing Spurs could challenge for the title next season.

If Conte is right about timelines, he will need a new deal before he has completed his rebuild, while it might be tougher than anticipated to persuade Harry Kane to extend his own contract if Spurs are truly just beginning another cycle.

Conte’s comments felt primarily aimed at the club’s supporters in the form of an impassioned appeal to stay patient and onside, but there is also the issue of how they will be received by the club and his squad.

While fans will overwhelmingly react favourably to their manager’s fury at being so far adrift of the top clubs, Conte’s withering assessment of his squad does risk alienating his bosses and some players, particularly as the head coach was arguably not blameless for last night’s defeat.

His decision to select Matt Doherty at left wing-back backfired, while the Italian’s conservative XI was predictably flat going forward, and chaotic at the back. Plainly, this is not about Conte, however.

 (AP)
(AP)

For Spurs, the defeat bore the familiar hallmarks of previous big-game surrenders — the unfocused start, the carelessly conceded early goal, the no-shows from senior players — and the club have accepted mediocrity for too long.

Their decline over the past two to three years has been stark and, while hyperbolic in parts, there was nothing about Conte’s assessment of the club that felt unfair.

Spurs should take encouragement from having a manager who will not accept failure and is prepared to challenge the club and his players to reach the top.

It is up to them to respond.

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