Why forward-thinking Harry Winks could be key to Tottenham’s development under Antonio Conte

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As Tottenham laid siege to Southampton’s goal in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw, it was a reminder that Antonio Conte’s improving side are still a work in progress.

Pre-Conte, Spurs struggled to break down stubborn opponents who were happy to sit deep and defend, and at this stage of the Italian’s project they remain reliant on having space to score, shown by their success on the counter-attack against Liverpool and Crystal Palace.

Harry Kane, who equalised from the penalty spot, Heung-min Son and Lucas Moura are all back among the goals but at St. Mary’s Spurs lacked the ingenuity and guile to get their forwards in scoring positions, as 10-man Southampton crowded out the space and doggedly held on for a point.

Spurs are still learning Conte’s approach and they should improve at breaking down packed defences as they develop under the head coach.

And key to this development could be Harry Winks, who looked the likeliest player to unlock Saints in another encouraging midfield display.

Winks created most of Spurs’ best openings and helped to turn the game on its head in the 40th minute when he beat the press and released Son with a fine pass.

Mohammed Salisu’s foul on the South Korean earned him a red card and Spurs a penalty, reversing the momentum of the contest in an instant.

Winks was also responsible for Spurs’ clearest breakthrough with an extra man, his lovely chip setting up Kane’s trademark finish – only for the goal to be disallowed by the VAR for a fractional offside.

It was also Winks’ cross which Fraser Forster spilled into his own net under pressure from Matt Doherty – another decision which felt harsh on Spurs – and the wing-back might have scored after getting on the end of another clever Winks ball to the back post.

Winks actually started by looking uncomfortable against Southampton’s press and more than once he nearly pirouetted into trouble. At one point in the first half he lost possession in a dangerous area but managed to win it back with a timely interception in the box.

But while Dele Alli and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg never settled, Winks grew into the game and, once Spurs had the extra man and Saints were forced to stop pressing high, he was able to dictate the tempo and to drive the visitors forward with his quick passing from the base of midfield. He kept the ball well, while always looking for a killer pass through Southampton’s defence.

For Winks, it was a second consecutive positive performance following a comeback of sorts in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool, when he also created a number of chances, including Son’s equaliser.

Winks was miserable and considering his future under Nuno Espirito Santo but he has always wanted to stay at Spurs and it is now very unlikely that he will leave the club in January.

With Conte clearly not sold on Tanguy Ndombele, who was an unused substitute at St. Mary’s, Winks offers the manager a more creative alternative to Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp, who Spurs nonetheless missed on Tuesday, and a more progressive option in games where they are going to dominate the ball.

After just two bright performances, it is too early to start thinking about an England recall but, when it comes to the national team, Winks is also an intriguing option, because Gareth Southgate’s side still have a possession problem and a shortage of midfielders who are skilled at keeping the ball.

It is now up to Winks to capitalise on these positions of strength and make himself an indispensable part of Conte’s revolution.

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