Tottenham transformed under Antonio Conte as optimism grows for Champions League push

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Momentum: Tottenham rose to fifth in the Premier League after brushing aside Crystal Palace on Boxing Day  (AFP via Getty Images)
Momentum: Tottenham rose to fifth in the Premier League after brushing aside Crystal Palace on Boxing Day (AFP via Getty Images)

Antonio Conte’s transformation of Tottenham continued apace with a 3-0 win over 10-man Crystal Palace on Boxing Day.

The result mirrored Palace's home win over Nuno Espirito Santo's 10-man Spurs in September, which further underlined the scale of Conte's work since succeeding the Portuguese last month.

Palace’s late request to postpone the game was turned down by the Premier League despite a Covid outbreak in their camp, which left the Eagles without isolating manager Patrick Vieira, but they were also the makers of their own downfall.

Wilfried Zaha’s red card moments after Spurs had turned the game on its head with two goals in as many minutes effectively ended the match as a contest and allowed Conte’s side to enjoy a comfortable afternoon.

Zaha’s rush of blood was a turning point of sorts but most of the damage had already been done through quick-fire goals from Harry Kane and Lucas Moura, who was Spurs’ outstanding player.

The Brazilian set up Kane to open the scoring and also laid on Spurs’ third goal for Heung-min Son in the second half.

Spurs had looked a little turgid in the opening half an hour but they sprang into life with two quick counter-attacking goals, both straight out of the Conte playbook.

The Italian was taking charge of only his sixth League game but has transformed Spurs beyond recognition and, having crumbled at Selhurst Park, they never looked like conceding here. Hugo Lloris was untested on his 35th birthday, while Japhet Tanganga, who was sent off back in September, asserted himself well in the back three.

Given the hectic schedule, it was a dream afternoon for Spurs, with Conte’s side to effectively see out the match in second gear.

The head coach used the second half to manage his squad ahead of the visit to Southampton in 48 hours’ time and Kane was was given a rest for the final 30 minutes, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Son were also replaced.

With the victory, Spurs moved up to fifth in the table, finally back in positive goal difference, and a point clear of West Ham having played two games fewer.

With Southampton and Watford to come in the next two matches, Spurs are well-placed to carry their momentum into the New Year and potentially set up a long-term challenge for a Champions League place.

Lucas shines

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Under Conte, Spurs are a better side in almost every conceivable way and with every passing game a different player is stepping up, and demonstrating their improvement and worth.

Against Liverpool, it was Dele Alli and Harry Winks; in Wednesday’s win over West Ham, it was Steven Bergwijn; and against Palace, Lucas was the match-winner.

The Brazilian set up the goals for Kane and Son with pinpoint crosses and, in between, scored himself, attacking Emerson Royal’s cross and rising above Joachim Andersen to head home from close range.

Lucas not only finished the move, which effectively clinched the game for Spurs, he also started it, picking up the ball in a deep position on the left touchline and driving inside.

Like so many of his teammates, Lucas looks a different player under Conte. A well-coached player.

The former Paris Saint-Germain forward was well-liked by Jose Mourinho and Nuno but he was so often frustrating and inconsistent, punctuating lively performances with poor decisions.

Against the Eagles, Lucas looked like a clinical match-winner and he is clearly benefitting from working under Conte, who tells his players exactly where to be and what to do in almost every situation.

In the head coach's first three or four matches in charge, Lucas looked the likeliest contender to eventually drop out of the team for an extra creative midfielder – a tactic Conte used successfully against Liverpool.

This was a performance to really demonstrate Lucas' worth as both a goal-scorer and a provider, as he builds impressive partnerships with Kane, Son and Royal. On this evidence, Lucas is one of the first names on Conte's teamsheet.

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