Tottenham squad has never been stronger as Antonio Conte prepares to send his cadets over the top

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Tottenham squad has never been stronger as Antonio Conte prepares to send his cadets over the top
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After a summer of expectation and uncharacteristic efficiency, Tottenham will begin the season at home to Southampton tomorrow looking strikingly...familiar.

Richarlison is suspended and Yves Bissouma is a doubt. Djed Spence and Clement Lenglet are unlikely to be thrown straight in, while Ivan Perisic — the likeliest of the club’s six new additions to start — is still not fully fit.

A £150million war chest and the game’s most demanding coach can still leave you with Matt Doherty and Ryan Sessegnon as wing-backs, and Ben Davies or Davinson Sanchez in the back three.

Still, the familiarity of the XI will not tell the story of Spurs’ impressive progress since Antonio Conte agreed to stay on as head coach on May 27.

From late February onwards Conte’s side clicked and looked a match for anyone, proving it with a 3-2 win at Manchester City, but squad depth was an issue and they finished last season with a bench of academy players.

The new faces — and the prospect of one or two more if the club can shift their deadwood — leave Spurs in a dramatically stronger position for the advent of five subs and their return to the Champions League.

Record-signing Richarlison offers transformative competition for Harry Kane, Heung-min Son and Dejan Kulusevski across the front three, while Bissouma and the returning Oliver Skipp (sidelined tomorrow) give Conte four powerful and exciting midfield options, along with Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Lenglet, who is on loan from Barcelona, offers solid cover in the back three and Fraser Forster is an experienced, homegrown understudy to Hugo Lloris.

Spence has pointedly been described as a ‘club signing’ by Conte but, in time, the 21-year-old is expected to offer pace and dynamism at wing-back — the key to any successful Conte side.

Publicly, the Italian is playing down expectations but he will regard the conditions of this chaotic, segmented season as fertile ground to disrupt the duopoly at the top of the League and challenge in all three cups.

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Conte has stripped his squad of dissenting elements. Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso are expected to leave permanently, bringing to an end a tedious cycle of expectation and disappointment, and Harry Winks and Sergio Reguilon are also unwanted.

Conte enjoys using the metaphors of battle and he has flogged his players like cadets during pre-season, under the eye of legendary fitness coach Gian Piero Ventrone, known as ‘the Marine’.

At Chelsea and Inter Milan, Conte spoke of building a “war machine” before winning historic titles and he is aiming for the same at Spurs: a rigorously-drilled squad with killer instinct, who follow his orders to the letter.

His side have a devastating armoury in Kane and Son, but Conte himself continues to feel like the most vital cog, even if he overstated the “miracle” it took to guide the club to fourth last season (they were only two points off when he was appointed in November). Conte’s greatest achievement is seemingly convincing Daniel Levy of the value in signing ready-to-go, experienced players for the start of pre-season (although managing director Fabio Paratici has been just as influential in lobbying the chairman).

The head coach has the fanbase and the club eating out of his hand, and is not oblivious to his position of strength.

His contract, which runs until the end of this season with an ‘option to extend’, will inevitably become a talking point before long, particularly if Spurs stutter and he starts venting, but for Conte a short-term deal is a crucial check on the club. To keep Conte happy, Spurs must keep giving him what he wants.

Spurs still feel short of a top centre-half and could do with an extra creative option.

If there is a niggling cause for concern, it comes in the schedule. Conte admitted his side struggled to play three games a week last season and they only hit their stride after being dumped out of the Europa Conference League.

A full pre-season with a bigger squad will help but the question is whether Conte, whose European record is the only blotch on his CV, can consistently produce results every few days.

With most fans eyeing a first trophy since 2008, Conte has said he only wants his side to be better than last term but he has built a reputation on winning titles.

A serious title tilt is surely far-fetched; this is Tottenham after all but it is Antonio Conte’s Tottenham now, which makes all the difference.

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