At Estadio Jose Alvalade on Tuesday night, it became evident that the Tottenham forward line is earning a reputation as one of the most dangerous in Europe.
That much was clear as a press conference held by Sporting Lisbon head coach Ruben Amorim was dominated by questions about the front four available to Antonio Conte.
“We have to be prepared for Tottenham’s transitions,” admitted Amorim. “Sometimes it’s difficult, because speed is speed and it’s about the timing of the pass.
“They can be on the edge of their own box and then, seconds later, at the other end of the pitch.”
Sporting are wary of the threat of Harry Kane, Richarlison, Heung-min Son and Dejan Kulusevski, and Amorim hopes to have come up with a plan to stop them.
The main point he was keen to stress was how his full-backs could not get caught high up the pitch, and how his team as a whole must be more careful in possession. Certainly more than they were against Eintracht Frankfurt last week, when they won 3-0 in Germany, thanks to a fine second-half performance.
“I know that if we lose as many balls as we did against Eintracht, [Spurs] will not forgive us,” said Amorim. “We have to play as we usually play, but we cannot lose the ball like we did in the first half against Eintracht.”
What is clear is that Sporting will not change from their possession-based style of play tonight. They look to dominate the ball and open teams up, and it is a tactic that has served them well, with Amorim guiding them to the Portuguese title in 2021. The 37-year-old Portuguese has established himself as one of the best young coaches in Europe, and Chelsea considered him before they swooped for Graham Potter last week.
But his confidence to stick with his game plan will be music to Spurs’s ears. Their forwards thrive off teams having the ball and leaving space for them to exploit. Nowhere is that scenario more likely than in Europe, where teams like Sporting are more inclined than some Premier League sides to want to control possession.
That should suit Spurs perfectly and it is little wonder their forward line is making noises in Europe, because the Champions League should be the perfect arena for them to showcase their talents.
“At the moment we have four players, and everyone deserves to play,” said Conte, when discussing his forward line.
“We started with Sonny, Harry and Deki, then the last games I prefer to give the possibility to Richy to play. We are in the right way, because to face four competitions, especially if you are to play in the Champions League, you need to have a deep squad.”
Conte loves competition in his squad and his forward line is where he truly has it.
The Italian said last season that he would be “crazy” to leave out Son, but last night he warned the South Korean that he is not undroppable. Son is yet to score this season and, with Conte having the luxury of being able to rotate four international forwards, he may have to learn to deal with the disappointment of being left out.
But Conte believes Tottenham’s ability to rotate Son, who won the Premier League golden boot last season, demonstrates their status as a big club with ambition of winning major trophies.
“The old habit was that the players were used to playing in every game, and in this situation you don’t have great possibilities to win,” Conte said.
“When you try to build something important you have to change old habits, otherwise it means you don’t want to have ambition. For this reason the players have to accept the rotation, especially up front.
“Big clubs have a deep squad. It’s good for a coach to have these options.”
Any three of Kane, Kulusevski, Richarlison and Son could start tonight, and whoever misses out tonight has the right to feel aggrieved to do so.
Even more so when you consider Sporting could well play right into their hands.