Burnley v Tottenham

Antonio Conte said "we need to work a lot to improve the quality of the squad" after defeat to NS Mura

Antonio Conte said “we need to work a lot to improve the quality of the squad” after defeat to NS Mura

TEAM NEWS

Burnley striker Ashley Barnes faces a spell on the sidelines after tearing a muscle in his thigh.

James Tarkowski and Ashley Westwood are suspended after both picked up their fifth booking of the season last week.

Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte made nine changes for Thursday’s Europa Conference League defeat by NS Mura.

Oliver Skipp has returned from suspension and may be one of very few to keep their place from midweek. Cristian Romero remains out.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Burnley have won just one of the past 12 league meetings (D3, L8).
  • Spurs have scored in all but one of their 14 Premier League games versus the Clarets.

Burnley

  • Burnley have only managed one victory in 15 Premier League fixtures (D6, L8).
  • However, they are on a four-match unbeaten league run (W1, D3).
  • The Clarets have scored nine goals in those four games – one more than they managed in their previous 13 combined.
  • They have scored a league-high six headed goals this season, while Tottenham are yet to score from a header.
  • Burnley’s last six goals against Spurs have been shared between Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood, with both scoring three each.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Tottenham’s six league victories this season have all been by a single-goal margin.
  • Only Norwich have had fewer shots in the Premier League this season than the 124 by Spurs prior to the weekend.
  • They could go three successive away league matches without scoring for the first time since 2014.
  • Harry Kane has eight goals in his 10 previous Premier League appearances against Burnley.
  • Kane has either scored or assisted in each of his last six league games against the Clarets.

BBC Sport

Conte knows ‘everything, everything, everything’ has to improve at Tottenham

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

In many ways this felt like the natural next step for Tottenham Hotspur’s strained relationship with the Europa Conference League.

A competition that has offered pretty much unremitting bleakness since it started for Spurs seven matches and three months ago cranked up the sadness with the latest instalment of ineptitude: a 2-1 last-second away defeat in Europe’s third-tier competition to Mura, a team mid-table in the Slovenian league with the lowest UEFA coefficient ranking of any team in the competition this season.

This after battling back with 10 men to draw level after Ryan Sessegnon’s first-half red card. Yes from the competition that brought you a 1-0 defeat to Pacos de Ferreira and a 1-0 loss at Vitesse Arnhem so dismal that Harry Winks looked visibly shaken, this was a new low.

It leaves Tottenham facing a fight to even qualify for the next stage, and they are now in a position where they cannot win the group. That means that if they do go through they will have to play a two-legged knockout tie in February, against one of the teams that finish third in the Europa League group stage. Either side of a trip to face champions Manchester City.

No wonder head coach Antonio Conte was so devastated. He admitted that he is “starting to understand the situation” at Tottenham, whose level he said is “not so high”.  He then channelled David Moyes’s infamous Manchester United “must improve in a number of areas, including passing, creating chances and defending” admission when he said Spurs had to “do better in everything, everything, everything”.

And so as much as this may pain those who think Spurs should be trying to win every competition they are in, the reality is that they are not good enough. And they cannot afford to keep having their resources drained by the Europa Conference League. “To win (a trophy) is always important, but then you have to understand if you are ready to win,” Conte said.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to see what the benefits are of them staying in the competition — a point I made on the View from the Lane podcast in August at the qualifying round stage.

Yes they can end their trophy drought and qualify for the Europa League by winning it, but the drain of playing 10 more matches to get to that point does not seem worth it. Not when exiting the competition will give them so much more time on the training pitch that will leave them in a far stronger position to finish sixth (if not higher) and qualify for the Europa League via the Premier League. Especially with one of the best training-ground coaches in the world in Conte, someone who won the Premier League with Chelsea in his first season with no European football.

DELE-ALLI-TOTTENHAM

Alli, right, again struggled having been recalled (Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

On the winning a trophy point, would lifting the Europa Conference League shift the dial? It is a competition with no prestige, one that is derided as the “Europa plate” or “shield” by some in the game, and this is partly why it is always felt like Spurs are in a no-win situation. They go out and they are viewed as not good enough to even win such a derided competition, or they do win it and they will get mocked for going after such a third-tier tournament. Obviously being mocked should not be a genuine deterrent to trying to win a competition, but Spurs have far more pressing priorities.

Like trying to improve their league position for instance, which may take a direct hit from Thursday’s exertions. Playing for an hour with 10 men was hardly the ideal preparation for travelling to Burnley on Sunday, and there were other obstacles to overcome. Spurs were told that Maribor airport was not available for use outside daylight hours, so they had to drive two hours to Ljubljana after the game to fly from there. It meant a later return to London before training on Friday morning.

It is all just so Europa Conference League.

There are other issues too with the competition. As a head coach you essentially make wholesale changes and risk creating a two-tiered squad, or you play strong sides and risk overworking your key players. Doing the former was the beginning of the end for Nuno Espirito Santo, which is possibly the best thing that has happened to Spurs in the competition.

The ECL is also a competition that is at an awkward level of difficulty. Starting all Spurs’ regulars would feel like a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but it is not at such a level that they can play the youngsters and feel confident of picking up points. Doing so, while also giving fringe players valuable minutes, were seen as some of the benefits of the tournament, but it’s really not panned out like that.

With the former, Dane Scarlett is the only youngster to have been given much of a chance, and when he has played he has barely touched the ball. With the latter, few of the fringe players have done anything to improve their reputations.

In Arnhem and then again on Thursday night, there was genuine sadness at seeing former stars like Dele Alli struggling so badly on such a diminished stage. At the very least, it was all supposed to be a bit of a laugh, but the trips to Portugal, the Netherlands and Slovenia have been more sobering than enjoyable.

Financially, there is no great incentive to staying in the competition. Winning it would mean around £9.25 million in prize money, plus a fairly paltry cash injection from the television deal, which although welcome would hardly change things given that Spurs revealed this week that their debts increased from £605 million to £706 million in their most recent annual accounts.

And in any case, qualifying for the Champions League would be immeasurably more valuable to Spurs, which there is a chance of if they exit the Europa Conference League. It is hard to see them doing so with this squad if they stay in the competition.

And one final gripe: the Europa Conference League anthem is the same as the Europa League! It doesn’t even have its own anthem.

There will be embarrassment if Spurs go out but in the long term, it really may be no bad thing.

(Top photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

NS Mura v Tottenham

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte will make changes to his side for Thursday’s Europa Conference League game at Slovenian side NS Mura.

Spurs are second in Group G on seven points – three behind leaders Rennes – with two games to go.

The group winners will go through automatically and the runners-up will play a two-legged play-off in February.

“For us this competition is important. We want to take this fixture seriously,” said Conte.

Tottenham have not won a trophy since 2008.

Before he was sacked as manager this month, Nuno Espirito Santo rested his first-choice XI for the defeat at Vitesse Arnhem.

Spurs travel to Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday, but Conte said “all the players available” were making the journey to Slovenia for his fourth match in charge.

“I said on Sunday that I need to make rotation because there are players that are a bit tired because they played many games with the national team, and also we worked a lot in the last two weeks,” he added.

“There are other players that need game time.”

Mura have lost all four group games and cannot progress. They were beaten 5-1 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September.

Vlahovic can score every type of goal and is available for €80m – no wonder English clubs are interested

By James Horncastle, The Athletic

What was Dusan Vlahovic trying to say? After scoring his 27th Serie A goal of the calendar year, a number surpassed only by Robert Lewandowski in Europe’s top five leagues, he celebrated by pointing downwards as if to say, “The Artemio Franchi is my home.” Whether he meant the gesture to signify that on a foggy Saturday night in Florence was unclear.

Continue reading “Vlahovic can score every type of goal and is available for €80m – no wonder English clubs are interested”

Tottenham v Leeds

TEAM NEWS

Tottenham defender Cristian Romero has been ruled out after suffering a hamstring problem while on international duty with Argentina.

Oliver Skipp is banned for accumulating five yellow cards, while Giovani Lo Celso is doubtful with a minor injury.

Leeds will again be without Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling because of respective ankle and knee injuries.

Junior Firpo and Jamie Shackleton are both fit again and could be involved on Sunday.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Tottenham have won their last four home league meetings with Leeds.
  • This is their 100th meeting in all competitions, with Spurs ahead by 37 wins to Leeds’ 33.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Tottenham could equal their club record of four league games without a goal for the first time since 2006.
  • Spurs have managed just nine goals in the league in 2021-22 – only bottom side Norwich have scored fewer.
  • At the same stage last season, Son Heung-min had scored 10 league goals and Harry Kane had eight.
  • This season, Kane has scored just once in 10 Premier League appearances. In all competitions, he has gone five consecutive Spurs games without a goal for the first time since 2016.
  • Tottenham have benefitted from four own goals in all competitions this season, more than any other Premier League side.

Leeds United

  • Leeds have gone three league games without defeat for the first time this season (W1, D2).
  • Marcelo Bielsa’s side have not kept a clean sheet in any of their five top-flight away matches so far.
  • Leeds have drawn five Premier League matches in 2021-22, as many as they did in the whole of last season.
  • Raphinha has scored 45% of Leeds’ goals in the Premier League this season (five of 11), opening the scoring in a joint-high four matches.

Spurs fans and the Y-word: What happens next?

By Charlie Eccleshare and Jack Pitt-Brook, The Athletic

Tottenham Hotspur will ask their supporters to assess the appropriateness of their use of the Y-word, in what could be a major step towards the club’s fans ending a decades-long association with the word and its variants, The Athletic understands.

Continue reading “Spurs fans and the Y-word: What happens next?”

Two years on, can Conte help Tottenham fans finally come to turn with Pochettino’a sacking?

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

A day out from the second anniversary of the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino, are Tottenham Hotspur fans finally coming to terms with the departure of their beloved former manager?

Continue reading “Two years on, can Conte help Tottenham fans finally come to turn with Pochettino’a sacking?”

Peak ages: Spurs can have no excuses about players not be ready or being too old

By Charlie Eccleshare and Mark Carey, The Athletic

For a team that have felt like they’ve been in transition for too long, Tottenham’s squad actually appears to be at a close to peak age.

Based on detailed research by The Athletic on when players peak, Spurs’ squad hits the sweet spot almost exactly, being just 0.4 years younger than the ideal age.

As the graphic below demonstrates, only Leeds United are closer to that perfect number, and Spurs’ 0.4 figure contrasts favourably with rivals for the European places like West Ham (1.9 years over) and Everton (1.2 years over).

Seven of the Spurs squad sit in the peak age range for their position, and very few of the players sit far outside it.

This suggests that Antonio Conte might have inherited a group of players more ready to win things than has been assumed. Of course, age on its own says only so much, and one can question the quality of the Spurs squad, but Conte does at least appear to have a good blend of age and experience. And this ties in with the sense at Tottenham that with Conte arriving the time for excuses is over.

From a squad-building point of view, no one can say the Spurs squad is too young anymore, and given that all of Spurs’ outfielders to have played in the Premier League this season are in their 20s, likewise no one can point to veterans like Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld and suggest Spurs need a refresh. The last two summer transfer windows have largely been about achieving that refresh, and a result is a group of players that, in theory at least, are at the right stages of their career to achieve things immediately.

This is of course precisely what Conte has been brought in to achieve, and with a couple of judicious additions he may sense that Spurs need to seize the moment before the last remnants of the great Mauricio Pochettino team start to fade away.


Starting with the Tottenham attack, we can see that Harry Kane is considered to be in the peak window for a striker. This is significant since much of the discussion around the 28-year-old’s potential move to Manchester City this summer centred on the extent to which his best years were behind him. Kane and Conte will believe that he still has many more elite seasons left in him.

Spurs’ other world-class player, Son Heung-min, 29, is considered to be a little beyond the peak age for a wide forward (see graphic below). This could prove to be slightly deceptive though since Son often plays more through the middle, and is in such phenomenal physical shape that the rules for most athletes can be taken with a pinch of salt for him.

Of Spurs’ attacking midfielders, Tanguy Ndombele (24) is considered just before peak age for someone playing that position, while Giovani Lo Celso (25) is in the sweet spot. This does suggest Lo Celso needs to kick on this season, and show that he is capable of graduating from player with promise to important first-team asset. Making that step has proved elusive so far. In the wide areas, Bryan Gil (20) and Steven Bergwijn (24), have a bit longer before they will be expected to peak.

In central midfield, 21-year-old academy graduate Oliver Skipp is a few years off his theoretical peak, but all three of Spurs’ other options there (Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, 26, Dele Alli, 25, and Harry Winks, 25) are supposedly at their peak — the latter two right in the middle of it. This rather brings home why there’s been so much written about Dele and Winks, given that both have not been at the level they were a few years ago during the last couple of seasons. It also suggests that central midfield is the most callow area of Conte’s squad — something he may look to address in the coming transfer windows.

Defensively, Spurs have a reasonably good balance age-wise, with a crop of younger players augmented by a smattering of more experienced players. Eric Dier, another of the survivors from the Pochettino era, is right in the middle of a peak age for a centre-back.

Behind him, Hugo Lloris is remarkably the only player in the Spurs squad over the age of 30. At 34, Lloris is, in theory, a few years beyond the slightly later peak for a goalkeeper.

Perhaps in an ideal world Spurs would have a couple more veterans to balance out the youngsters in the squad, but really it would be hard to achieve a much better equilibrium age-wise.

If Spurs fail to achieve their aims this season, it will be because the quality and/or mentality weren’t right — there can be no excuses about the players not being ready or being past their age peak.

Demanding Conte will weed out the winners from the cruisers in Spurs squad

By Seb Stafford-Bloor, The Athletic

That Everton game was different.

Tottenham showed that they could bend without breaking. It seems like a long time since they played a match of such competitive tension — you could feel how tight the strings were pulled in that game. It was ninety minutes of nastiness and spite, during which every pass and tackle seemed to matter. Spurs stood up, too. They dealt with the howling crowd and the provocation and actually fought to take something home.

It’s strange to be back here, praising the bare minimum. But it’s right, because the last few years have been dishonest. Whenever the wind has started to blow as it did at Goodison Park, it’s usually been with one outcome. A badly defended corner. A slapstick moment. A goal that would quickly become two or three.

Since October 2020 and that 6-1 win over Manchester United, Spurs have come from behind to win in the Premier League just three times. That illustrates the lack of collective resilience within this group and also provides the context for why a goalless draw against a mediocre Everton was a welcome result. Spurs played as if determined not to fold, as if they were aware of their weaknesses and, for once, gave a damn about not having them exposed.

It made a change. For two years, they’ve been like one of those hapless cartoon villains who is always being outsmarted by their nemesis. They’ve been Bluto or Wile E Coyote or Skeletor’s collection of dim henchmen. They’ve been the football team who walk into traps, blow themselves up and run headlong into their own demise.

Enough now, because Antonio Conte is here and these players deserve him. Not through their performances, of course, but because with him, and for better or worse, they will finally be shown for who they are. It’s a new age of accountability for what, before Conte, had very much become a Goldilocks team, for whom nothing was ever quite right.

Training became too tough under Mauricio Pochettino. Under Jose Mourinho, it was too lax. And while Mourinho was too confrontational, Nuno Espirito Santo just wasn’t direct enough. Among those complaints were some very fair criticisms. Mourinho was wrong, Nuno was wrong. The trouble was that Tottenham players seemed to be hiding in the folds of the club’s muddled thinking. As long as Daniel Levy was secretly trying to join a Super League or Jose Mourinho was rolling through his greatest hits, no player was ever going to feel the full force of the supporters’ anger.

There’s something deeply unpalatable about that. As if a head coach being out of touch or a chairman’s actions somehow compels a group of players to run less than every other team in the division. Yes, yes, that’s how the game works, but it’s annoying. If for no other reason than because it seems like a tantrum — a brattish response to a bad situation and one that can only make everyone feel more miserable.

Conte challenges that culture. In fact, he’ll eradicate it by simply leaving behind anyone who isn’t willing to fall in line. His time at Chelsea and Juventus has created an expectation for what kind of environment he’ll create. The first-hand accounts of his methods also further our understanding of what life will likely be like. Lots of running, lots of goji berries. It’s all good news, but all secondary to the greater point, which is that Conte is in his career’s prime. He is a winner without caveats, and anyone who fails under him has nobody to blame but themself.

That matters a great deal at Tottenham. The grand aim of the appointment is – of course – to win, but its immediate consequence is to put many of these players on centre stage and demand proper answers to questions to which they’ve been mumbling in response for too long.

LpUnder Mourinho, anyone complaining to a friendly journalist could be sympathised with. He’s such an oversized character and his personality traits are so well established, that it’s always easy to believe that the disgruntled are just being victimised. Some were, some weren’t.

With Nuno, again, it was tempting to view complaints or disengagement through the many prisms that Tottenham have erected around themselves. Plenty of supporters have felt disengaged from the club over the past 24 months and were frustrated with what his appointment represented. Why shouldn’t some of that energy infect the players? Why shouldn’t they feel some of that futility too?

We’ve all made that argument at one point or another. It’s meant that in the years since Pochettino was dismissed, Tottenham has become a benefit-of-the-doubt kind of place, where it’s been too easy to see a player’s point of view or take his side. For good reason, perhaps, because at times — like furlough, like Super League, like the summer’s ridiculous manager search — it has felt as if criticising the actual football has felt far too micro and beside the point when so many macro issues clearly needed resolving.

That’s valid, but perhaps that fixation with overarching issues allowed too much to pass with too little comment. Zagreb was an interesting night in that regard. It was toe-curlingly embarrassing and utterly horrifying, but it was still a useful reference point.

A “disgrace” was the word Hugo Lloris used after last season’s 3-0 Europa League defeat to Dinamo and, sure, he may not have thought much of the team’s tactics or its head coach, but he wasn’t referring to either at that moment.

“I just hope everyone in the changing room feels responsible.”

Post-game interviews rarely say so much. Lloris is a tougher character than assumed and behind the dressing room doors, he’s capable of the full rainbow of emotions. Rarely do any of them show, though, but they did after that game when he was burning with anger. Most likely, he hoped everyone in the changing room felt responsible because, on what he had seen, he didn’t believe that they did.

At best, that evening was highly unprofessional; it was horribly descriptive of the standards that had become acceptable. Worryingly, of the 17 players who took part in that game, only five have since left the club, suggesting that many of the issues that lurked in the dressing room are still there.

Antonio Conte isn’t an instant cure for that kind of weakness. In time, he might be many things: a saviour, a deliverer, a highly expensive divorcee. Maybe. But what matters now is really what he reveals and how much clarity he provides. He will — definitively, unambiguously — not be the problem during this initial period. If players complain about it being too tough, then that will be about them. And if they don’t improve, it will be because they’re not willing to work hard enough.

Conte is that fork in the road. He’s a coach who seems to force players to choose one direction or the other, and who appears to have no tolerance at all for anyone who doesn’t match his commitment to being successful. Good, frankly — it will help the fog to lift. What’s revealed may not be that flattering, but the light that Conte brings will show — finally — who wants to win, and who’s been happy just to hide in plain sight, safely camouflaged by all the other failure.

Conte’s first week at Tottenham: 75 minute video analysis of Vitesse win, lots of running and more fruit

To get a sense of Antonio Conte’s first week at Tottenham, the scene at Hotspur Way on Friday lunchtime should give you a good indication.

It was technically Conte’s first full day in charge (his work permit had been approved the previous morning) and, as has been a recurring theme over the last week, he wanted to make up for lost time.

The previous couple of hours had been utterly exhausting for the players, and they were recovering from their exertions. Most were walking gingerly, nursing a stiff leg or back or other aches and pains, and looking as though they had just run a marathon. A few gave a grin of satisfaction and described themselves as “dead” — echoing Giorgio Chiellini’s description of how players feel after training under Conte: “Not tired — dead”.

Some of those involved had played in the 3-2 win against Vitesse Arnhem the night before and 12 hours later, were then training at a level of intensity they had not seen since the days of Mauricio Pochettino. One of the Spurs players’ output is said to have been 75 per cent of what it would normally be in a match. Ordinarily, players would spend Fridays after a Thursday night game in the gym or swimming pool. Instead, they were being pulled around by Conte as part of his famous 11 vs 0 “shadow training” exercise.

Around the club, there is a view that the players have got more out of Conte’s first week than Nuno Espirito Santo’s four months in charge.

Because it wasn’t just the training session on Friday that stood out. Before getting on the grass, Conte had subjected the players to a video analysis session of the Vitesse game that had been scheduled to last 20 minutes. It ended up taking 75 and meant training didn’t start until 11.45am, almost an hour after it had been due to begin.

The night before, Conte told the players following the Europa Conference League win over Vitesse that although he was proud of the way they had “suffered”, they needed to be in better physical condition. He made it clear that this was the last time he ever wanted to see overweight players, that their current levels were unacceptable, and that the team’s mentality had to change.

To help restore his players to their physical peaks, Conte has already revolutionised the club’s approach to nutrition. He believes that a handful of the club’s players are overweight, and has cut out heavy food and sandwiches after training, and taken away ketchup and mayonnaise. He has also cut down on fruit juice and cooking with oil and butter, and wants the players to eat more fruit.

Fitting in everything has been a challenge, and after that lengthy video analysis session on Friday, Conte was late for his press conference, for which he apologised profusely.

But he makes no apologies for working the players so hard, or for the fact that he has so much information he wants to get across, and that doing so may take a while.

This will be done partly through an increase in team meetings and video analysis sessions. These, along with insisting the squad all eat lunch together, have been some of the staples of Conte’s initial few days at Hotspur Way.

This is how Conte’s first week at Spurs played out…


The last 10 days or so have been a whirlwind for everyone at the club. Starting with the home defeat to Manchester United on Saturday, October 30, followed by Nuno’s sacking two days later and Antonio Conte’s appointment barely 24 hours later, there has barely been time to breathe.

Conte has set the tone for that feeling of having so much to do, but far too little time. The absence of a pre-season means he will have to condense the usual weeks of summer training into the spare hours and days between games that the team’s busy schedule allows. Conte acts as though there aren’t enough hours in the day, and he and his staff have been arriving for work earlier and leaving later than was customary under Nuno.

Before his official unveiling on Tuesday, Conte slept at the club’s luxury accommodation The Lodge on Monday night. He met with the players on Tuesday afternoon, and in a team meeting before their afternoon training session, told them how important it was that everyone stuck together after a difficult start to the season. He promised that there would be no favourites in the squad and that he would do everything in his power to help them win, as long as they were all completely dedicated to the project. He also stressed the importance of the players enjoying their football again in the wake of a bruising couple of months.

Because his work permit hadn’t been approved, Conte wasn’t able to lead the subsequent training session (or the one on Wednesday) but he watched on and conveyed how hard he expected the players to push themselves in matches and on the training pitch. He was also able to introduce some of the patterns of play he wants to see, with Lucas Moura’s goal against Vitesse at the end of a long passing move coming straight out of the Conte playbook.

Moura drops short to receive a pass from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg

He plays the ball forward to Harry Kane and sprints into the space

Kane knows where Moura will be and slides a pass through

The players responded to his instructions and positive energy straight away, buoyed by the hire of someone with such a glittering CV. Athletes are always subject to accusations of coasting but the reality is that the vast majority want to push themselves to their maximum. That is how they have made it to the top of their sport.

For the Spurs players, it has been re-energising this last week to have that feeling again of being tested. They know that after a couple of years of losing the physical edge they gained under Pochettino, they are working their way towards being back in peak condition. Conte has made clear to them that there will be no comfort zone under him, that no one can become complacent or too comfortable. He has standards and if you don’t meet them, you will know about it in no uncertain terms.

This kind of messaging has reinforced the feeling at the club that Conte’s arrival means there cannot be any excuses anymore. The players can’t hide behind misgivings about the manager or the lack of fitness or tactics, and the hope is that this will push up standards for everyone.

“He has a great personality, great ideas about football,” Tottenham’s captain Hugo Lloris said of Conte on Wednesday. “He will bring his passion, energy and knowledge of football. We are here to work and deliver the best every day. Bring intensity into our training sessions. Bring focus 100 per cent every day in every single session and he will help us to deliver better performances in the competitions.”

In those first couple of days, Conte wanted to foster a sense of togetherness straight away. He insisted the whole group ate lunch together at midday and explained that this was non-negotiable. Under Nuno, this kind of thing had slipped — yes, the head coach wanted the players to eat together, but if it didn’t happen there weren’t really any consequences. The players also saw those alterations made to their diet, with Conte explaining how the changes would lead to rewards on the pitch.

There has been pretty much universal acceptance of Conte’s methods from the players because he has the track record to prove that they work and the clear and concise way he is getting across his message.

Tottenham players have been re-energised at training by Conte (Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

In general, Spurs staff have noticed how precise Conte is about every last detail. Whereas Nuno identifies himself as a head coach who sees his domain as the training ground and was happier to accept certain structures that were already in place, Conte wants everything done his way.

As well as the players’ nutrition, Conte has already sought to transform team meetings and video analysis sessions.

Meetings with the squad were a rarity under Nuno, but they are very important to Conte in fostering unity and the sense that everyone is clear about what the team is trying to achieve.

Video analysis sessions are similarly fundamental. As Italy manager, they lasted about an hour but at Chelsea, Conte cut them down to around 15-20 minutes after realising that shorter sessions would be more effective for that group of players. The session on Friday morning after the Vitesse game had been booked for 20 minutes but lasted nearly four times that as there was so much to get through. As with much of Conte’s first week, things may eventually calm down a little, but there is a lot of time to make up after missing the first few months of the season.

The video sessions have been led by Conte’s brother, Gianluca, alongside Spurs’ analysts, and he has impressed with his energy and enthusiasm. Antonio Conte had also watched a lot of Spurs footage before taking over, so already has a good handle on what they need to work on. Before the Vitesse game and after it, the Conte brothers had plenty to get across to the players.

Across Wednesday and Thursday, the head coach also impressed Tottenham staff with how respectful he was. The same was true of his coaches, who have come across as friendly and keen to work with the pre-existing Spurs employees in different departments, making a point of saying hello to everyone and shaking their hands in the morning. They have also been useful in helping their new colleagues understand what Conte wants and expects. In general, Conte’s arrival had the effect already of lifting standards, with Spurs staff looking at the dedication and diligence of the new head coach and his team and wanting to match it. Conte and his team are very intense and professional, and everyone from the analysts to the sports scientists wants to impress them.

It has been striking to everyone at Tottenham just how hard Conte and staff work. They operate in the same space Nuno and his team did, and are often seen sitting around the coaches’ table, very engaged in what they are doing. At Hotspur Way, they are close to inseparable. Despite the friendliness, when it’s time to work, there aren’t many lighthearted moments.

Conte’s visa was approved on Thursday morning before his first match that evening. The win over Vitesse was thrilling and at the final whistle, Conte stopped to shake hands with young supporters as he walked down the tunnel.

Conte took charge of the Vitesse game hours after his visa had been approved (Photo: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Conte was relieved his team had dug out the victory after being down to 10 men, but he told his players that they had to be stronger and would have to “suffer” (a key Conte mantra) a lot more.

The following morning he showed them exactly what he meant with that lengthy video analysis meeting and gruelling training session. After he had walked and talked them through the 11-v-0 exercise, it was onto an 11-v-11 game. The players ached, but their minds and bodies tingled with the buzz of being pushed beyond their comfort zone. It felt like the Pochettino era. Long days at Hotspur Way were a staple of Conte’s first week.

His first Premier League match followed two days later, as Spurs and Everton played out a disappointing 0-0 draw. But defender Sergio Reguilon said afterwards: “You can see on the pitch the team is more aggressive and more competitive. We believe in the things we’re working on in training. That’s the way. We have to learn too much under him. For me, it’s unbelievable.”

In reality, it could be weeks, even months before we see the benefits of the hard work that is only just getting started under Conte. His first week rounded off on Monday and Tuesday with the players given a couple of days off after those two games in quick succession.

Those who are not on international duty will be back in this morning for double sessions, which Conte wasn’t able to fit in last week because of the constricted schedule. The players who will be taking part are looking forward to them and getting back towards full fitness — something that ebbed away under Jose Mourinho.

It’s only been a week but with so much to pack in, it’s felt almost like a month. And you get the sense that will be the case for the weeks to come as well.

The Conte era is well and truly underway.

The Athletic

Conte’s Tottenham evoke spirit of Nuno with goalless draw at Everton

By Richard Jolly, The Guardian

Tributes to Nuno Espiríto Santo had been few and far between this week until Antonio Conte found a fitting way to mark his predecessor’s reign. In the Italian’s first Premier League match in charge of Tottenham, just as in the Portuguese’s last, Spurs had no shots on target. Perhaps Nuno nodded on approvingly from afar.

Hugo Lloris challenges Richarlison in the penalty area. Chris Kavanagh awarded a spot-kick but changed his mind after a VAR review.

The paradox is that 0-0 felt the definitive Nuno scoreline, but his Tottenham never secured a stalemate in his ill-fated reign. Instead, after the breathless excitement of Conte’s bow against Vitesse came a game where, although Giovani Lo Celso struck the post, the only efforts on target came from Everton’s Ben Godfrey and Tom Davies. Suffice to say it was not quite what Conte planned.

It ranked as an underwhelming return to the division he won in catalytic fashion in 2017. Whereas Nuno’s debut was the falsest of false dawns, with victory over Manchester City, Conte joins Andre Villas-Boas, the only other one of Spurs’ last eight managers to fail to win on his top-flight bow. It will take a little longer to make a difference on the pitch. Off it, there is already a shift in attitudes. Dissent and silence have been exchanged for a soundtrack borrowed from Stamford Bridge.

A familiar, ominous chant returned about 50 minutes before Conte’s Premier League comeback began. He was making the journey across the pitch to the temporary huts still deployed as dressing rooms at Goodison Park when the early arrivals began serenading him. “Antonio, Antonio,” is a mantra with the unimaginative wording appropriated from Chelsea, but no elaboration is required. It is a statement of pride, a warning, almost a war cry for this most combative of coaches.

Rewind a couple of years and Daniel Levy hailed José Mourinho – the second of four managers Tottenham have given a contract that was due to expire in 2023 – as one of the two best in the world. It felt a dubious assertion then, and still more so on a day when Mourinho’s Roma lost to Venezia, but it is safer to say they have one of the top half-dozen now. Tottenham could savour the sense they still have an allure. They have an incongruous combination of Galactico manager and mediocre team but they can boast again.

The travelling fans brandished the tricolored flag of Italy; presumably freshly bought, rather than items already acquired to celebrate the back-up goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini. Conte had responded to the first sight of them. He deviated from his path to pose for photographs; perhaps a few of those congregating around him had never bothered to get a selfie with Nuno. Maybe they have been deleted from phones, trying to erase any evidence of a forgettable era; if, indeed, the shortest managerial tenure in Tottenham’s history qualifies as an era.

Tanguy Ndombele of Tottenham Hotspur battles for possession with Seamus Coleman and Anthony Gordon of Everton.
Tanguy Ndombele of Tottenham battles for possession with Seamus Coleman and Anthony Gordon of Everton. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

But the rapturous reception afforded to Conte was a reflection of who he is and who he isn’t. In any walk of life, a short cut to a welcome is to replace the unpopular or the unsuitable. The newcomer has done that, but there are few more dramatic upgrades than Nuno to Conte. The Portuguese was unwanted and unlamented, his successor feted and hailed.

Nuno’s name was never sung. Or not as any kind of compliment, anyway; the bored Tottenham faithful had chorused “Nuno, make a sub” during the drabness of their Carabao Cup win at Burnley. It may take a little longer to get his football out of their systems, however. It felt as if they had forgotten how to create. There was graft, but insufficient craft. Even the club’s slogan showed Nuno was miscast. To dare is to do? For Nuno, to dull was to do. But Conte could not effect an early transition into entertainers.

Unlike Tottenham, at least he makes for compelling viewing. He always did, even without the task of trying to Contefy a team in something of an identity crisis since Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking. Indeed, the second half was barely 30 seconds old when he and Eric Dier had a conversation that consisted of long-range pointing.

He is both micro-manager and madman. Compared to him, even the famously meticulous Rafael Benítez looked laid-back on the touchline as Conte could not contain his frustration, the animated gestures of an angry perfectionist forming a contrast with Nuno’s beard-stroking passivity. Conte strayed far out of his technical order, forever eager to get closer to his charges to dispense orders.

A manager who demands positional discipline from his players showed precious little himself. The fourth official, Anthony Taylor, gave up on the thankless task of trying to summon him back. Under Nuno, Tottenham ran the least in the Premier League. If Conte’s personal mileage is included, they might cover the most distance under his replacement. The Italian has brought three fitness coaches to Tottenham; perhaps one of them is employed simply to keep the manager in shape.

His side showed energy. There were hints of intent. Briefly, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg was the furthest player forward, seeking to reach Harry Kane’s pass. There were chances for the two wing-backs, with Emerson Royal and Sergio Reguilón charged with recreating the extraordinary impact Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso had for his Chelsea. Ben Davies, who showed an adventurous streak to set up Spurs’ third goal against Vitesse, surged forward to thrash a shot over the bar. But it ended up as Tottenham’s first goalless draw for 60 games. Perhaps that counts as an immediate impact, but probably not the one Conte had in mind.

Everton v Tottenham

TEAM NEWS

Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin and midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure remain on the sidelines.

Andre Gomes and Yerry Mina are also out, but Lucas Digne is fit and available.

Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte will be without wing-back Ryan Sessegnon for his first Premier League game in charge of the club.

Winger Bryan Gil is a doubt because of the thigh injury that has ruled him out of successive matches.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Tottenham have won 27 Premier League games against Everton, more than against any other side.
  • Everton’s only victory in the past 17 league meetings came at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last season.
  • Spurs are unbeaten on their last eight top-flight visits to Goodison Park.

Everton

  • Everton are aiming to avoid a fourth straight league defeat for the first time since October 2019.
  • Rafael Benitez could equal his longest Premier League losing streak as a manager, set on three occasions while at Newcastle.
  • A 10th defeat of 2021 at Goodison Park would match the club record for most home losses in a calendar year, set in 1929, 1958 and 1993.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Antonio Conte is the fourth person to manage Spurs and Chelsea in the Premier League, emulating Glenn Hoddle, Andre Villas-Boas and Jose Mourinho.
  • Villas-Boas is the only one of Spurs’ last seven managers (including caretakers) not to win their first Premier League match in charge of the club.
  • Tottenham have only scored nine league goals this season, their fewest after 10 games since 2013-14.
  • Spurs haven’t had a shot on target in their last two hours and 16 minutes of football since a Harry Kane effort in the 44th minute against West Ham.

BBC Sport

Daniel Levy: Raising Tottenham’s ambitions or thwarting them?

By Oliver Kay, The Athletic

If his words at the time are to be believed, Daniel Levy never planned for it to be this way. His stated intention, when ENIC took over Tottenham Hotspur in 2001, was to hold the fort as non-executive chairman and then find someone more experienced to do the job.

Like so many others who find themselves in powerful positions in football, though, he loved the thrill of it. What’s more, he felt he was good at it. Whether it was rival chairmen, managers or agents, he relished every negotiation. Oh how he relished a negotiation.

Two decades on, he is arguably the most high-profile executive in the Premier League. Some would say famous. Others, both among Tottenham’s fanbase and among that strange community of Premier League owners and directors, would say infamous. Everyone has an opinion on Levy, which is not quite the way he imagined it when he said shortly after the ENIC takeover that he was “not going to be one of those high-profile chairmen”.

Depending on your view, Levy might either have raised Tottenham’s ambitions or thwarted them. He has either built a sustainable club, with a stadium and training facilities that are the envy of many, or he has prioritised business over football at every turn. He has either forced the club’s way into European football’s elite — in the corridors of power and, for a time at least, on the pitch — or he has presided over 20 years of failure. After all, Tuesday marked 5,000 days since the 2008 League Cup triumph, which remains the solitary trophy success under ENIC’s ownership.

And, again depending on your view, the managerial upheaval of the past two years — sacking Mauricio Pochettino, hiring Jose Mourinho and then sacking him within 17 months, taking 72 days to appoint Nuno Espirito Santo and then sacking him after 124 days and now hiring Antonio Conte, a coach who had previously appeared to be far beyond Tottenham’s reach — might represent a clueless scramble in the dark or a relentless, unyielding determination to get things right.

Would it be acceptable at this point to sit on the fence and say it is all rather more nuanced than that? Would it also be acceptable, at risk of antagonising those who even greeted news of Conte’s appointment with a #levyout or #ENICout hashtag, to suggest that Tottenham have fared better than most clubs in English football’s 21st century ownership lottery?

The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust (THST) issued a statement on Monday saying that, while Nuno had not been the right appointment, yet another managerial change served to underline the doubts they had raised previously about the strategy and vision of the club under ENIC’s ownership. In a statement on Monday, THST expressed concern about two years of “obvious regression” and “growing concern among fans about the direction of travel”.

Those criticisms and concerns are reasoned and fair. And unlike so many criticisms in football, they are not merely a case of being wise after the event. Like many of us, THST questioned the chaotic process that led Levy and his new director of football Fabio Paratici to Nuno this summer, just as they previously questioned the wisdom of handing over the Pochettino project to a coach of Mourinho’s profile. Like many of us, they also questioned at the time whether Levy and the club were doing enough to build — on the pitch — on the spectacular progress Pochettino delivered. 

Frustration is certainly understandable. Look beyond the thrilling run to the Champions League final in 2019 and you see a clear picture of a four-year progression between 2013-14 and 2016-17 (from sixth in the Premier League to fifth to third to second, with a hugely impressive tally of 86 points eclipsed by Conte’s Chelsea) followed by regression (from second to third to fourth to sixth to seventh and a current position of ninth at the time of Conte’s appointment).

Alternatively you could measure it in the context of European performance: from last 32 of the Europa League in 2014-15 to last 16 to Champions League group stage elimination, to Champions League last 16 and then, almost unthinkably, to a Champions League final in 2019… followed by defeat in the last 16, then in the Europa League last 16 and now to what is shaping into an unedifying scramble to progress from a Europa Conference League group containing Vitesse Arnhem, Rennes and NS Mura.

daniel-levy

Levy is arguably the most high-profile executive in the Premier League (Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Either way, Tottenham found their way to a peak somewhere between 2017 and 2019 and they failed to progress further. Pochettino warned on many occasions that they needed to keep “refreshing” the squad in order to maintain their progress. And, bluntly, they didn’t. If the failure to add a single player to the first-team squad between Lucas Moura signing on deadline day in January 2018 and the window opening in summer 2019 is trotted out endlessly, it is because that was the period when Tottenham, having reached that peak, desperately needed freshening up.

Even the long-awaited overhaul in the summer of 2019 was an anticlimax, with the signings of the talented Giovani Lo Celso (initially on loan), Tanguy Ndombele and Ryan Sessegnon doing little to dispel the growing sense of drift. It left Pochettino looking disillusioned. Within months he was gone and the much-vaunted Tottenham “project” — football-wise, at least — seemed to have given way to a reactive approach that has seen the club lurch from one poor decision to another. From a weakened position, with their strategy and vision far less clear, their recruitment over the past two years has been nothing like good enough.

And yet… are we perhaps guilty of underestimating how hard it is for a club of Tottenham’s size to get it right on a consistent basis? This is a club which, one League Cup success apart, was byword for mediocrity in the years before ENIC took over. Over the 10 seasons prior to the ENIC takeover Tottenham’s final league position was: 10th, 15th, eighth, 15th, seventh, eighth, 10th, 14th, 11th and 10th. A couple of months later, under new ownership, they finished 12th and then Sol Campbell, their outstanding player, left to join Arsenal on a free transfer. That was the Tottenham of 2001.

The first years of ENIC’s ownership saw more of the same: ninth, 10th, 14th and ninth, but then came two fifth-placed finishes under Martin Jol, a drop to 11th under Juande Ramos in 2007-08 (the season of that last League Cup success), and then the appointment of Harry Redknapp, which, however reactive it was at the time, worked a treat. Since then: eighth, fourth, fifth, fourth, fifth, sixth, fifth, third, second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh. Right now, albeit in a third-tier tournament, Tottenham are playing in European competition for the 15th time in 16 seasons.

We talk now of a “Big Six” in English football. Yes it is a term that is often used witheringly as we ask precisely what Tottenham have won over the course of a decade that has seen trophy success for Leicester City (Premier League and FA Cup), Wigan Athletic (FA Cup) and Swansea City (League Cup), but, rather than merely being a convenient label, it reflects the way six clubs have far outgrown the rest in terms of power, influence and financial resources. Three of those clubs have been in a privileged position for decades, another two have benefitted from new money.

Tottenham’s lack of silverware remains a frustration for their fans and a source of hilarity for everyone else’s (seriously, 5,000 days!), but on the pitch and off it, they have forced their way into the Premier League’s top six (and often the top four) on a consistent basis.

Moreover, they have done so organically rather than with the help of a benefactor. Joe Lewis, the majority shareholder, would never pretend to be that. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire published a series of charts on Monday detailing how Tottenham’s revenue over the past decade (around £2.71 billion) is barely half that of Manchester United (£4.95 billion).

Their total wage bill over the same period (£1.28 billion) is around half of Manchester City’s (£2.53 billion) and just 65 per cent of Arsenal’s (£1.96 billion). Their net spend in the transfer market has been negligible compared to Arsenal, who have spent much of that decade in decline, never mind compared to Chelsea and the Manchester clubs.

Could Levy and Tottenham have spent more? Almost certainly, yes. Between 2012-13 and 2015-16 the club’s annual turnover rose from £147 million to £210 million, but their wage bill only from £96 million to £100 million. But perhaps their progress over that period reinforced Levy’s belief that Tottenham were simply smarter than their big-spending rivals. And perhaps at one point that belief could be justified. The danger, always, is that complacency and self-satisfaction sets in just as your rivals, with far more money at their disposal, are forced to raise their game.

At the same time, Tottenham have been investing in infrastructure: in a training ground and stadium that are the envy of many richer, more successful clubs. All of that is designed to make the club bigger and more competitive (not to mention more appealing to potential investors and commercial partners) in the longer term.

As with Arsenal previously, there was a naivety in imagining that building a far bigger stadium, with far better facilities, would bring guarantees of success. But there would also be a naivety in thinking Tottenham could remain competitive — without a benefactor, it is worth reiterating — while generating £45 million a year in match-day revenue at White Hart Lane. The upside of the stadium move has been severely impacted by the pandemic, but this season’s match-day revenue is expected to go far beyond £100 million.

The big question here is whether, in the desperation to create a new Tottenham — the stadium, the NFL partnership, the ever-greater commitment to global marketing, the desperation to project a certain image to the world in that Amazon Prime All or Nothing docuseries, even forcing their way into those European Super League (ESL) conversations earlier this year — Levy and ENIC have in a very literal sense taken their eye off the ball.

Levy appeared to admit as much in a rare mea culpa in May, whether he was referring to the ESL launch, the Mourinho appointment, mistakes in the transfer market, the unpopular move to furlough the club’s staff during the COVID pandemic or some combination of all of the above. “As a club we have been so focused on delivering the stadium and dealing with the impact of the pandemic that I feel we lost sight of some key priorities and what’s truly in our DNA,” the chairman said in an open letter when fans returned for the game against Aston Villa at the end of last season.

The “DNA” line can probably be filed under what the THST describe as “bland statements”. After all, Levy promised in that same open letter that Mourinho’s successor would be a coach “whose values reflect those of our great club and return to playing football with the style for which we are known — free-flowing, attacking and entertaining”. To go from that pledge to appointing arguably the most defence-minded coach in the Premier League was laughable. More to that point, it effectively doomed poor Nuno from the start.

The thought persists that, rather than try to upgrade on Pochettino with a perceived “winner” two years ago, Tottenham should have appointed someone with the same commitment to building on the foundations he had laid. Even at the end of last season, it felt like a job for a Brendan Rodgers or an Erik ten Hag, if either of them could be persuaded, or even a Roberto Martinez, a Graham Potter or an Eddie Howe, rather than a Nuno.

What is clear from the Conte appointment is that, since Paratici’s arrival, the “DNA” idea has given way to something else entirely: a desperation to win trophies. That desperation could be perceived in Conte’s opening words to the club’s supporters. He said he had been persuaded to join Tottenham by “the contagious enthusiasm and determination of Daniel Levy in wanting to entrust me with this task”. As sugar-coated as those sentiments might have appeared, they were consistent with various sources’ portrayal of the way the chairman pursued a coach who had rejected his advances in the summer.

Levy suggested in All or Nothing that Tottenham’s supporters had the wrong impression of him. “I think the perception of me is that I’m hard-nosed, stubborn, (that I) don’t care, not ambitious,” he said. “I think a lot of that isn’t fair. I certainly feel I’m incredibly ambitious to improve the team. They just don’t understand how hard it is to get to that place.”

Hard-nosed? Stubborn? Hell, yes. And as for Redknapp’s suggestion in the summer — with regard to Manchester City’s pursuit of Harry Kane — that Levy “doesn’t do emotions, doesn’t do feelings”, that seems wide of the mark. His unyielding stance on Kane this summer seemed to be fuelled by emotion: in this case anger and resentment with the player, his entourage and Manchester City. He doesn’t do sentimental, certainly, but some argue that, when it comes to dealing with players, their agents and rival chairmen, his stubbornness goes far beyond cold-headed logic.

Sacking Pochettino was an extraordinary thing to do, considering how close their relationship was at times and how, barely five months on from the Champions League final, most would have argued that Levy owed him far more patience and loyalty than the other way around. 

tottenham-levy

Pochettino and Levy after Tottenham reached the Champions League final (Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

As for sacking Mourinho just a few days before the Carabao Cup final, that too was also incredibly ruthless, particularly having invested so much of his own credibility in the appointment. But the story of that day is quite telling in itself. Mourinho was invited to a meeting at which he was encouraged to explain what was going wrong with the team after one win in six games. Levy’s responses left Mourinho with the distinct impression he was about to be sacked, so much so that he was surprised to be told to go out and take training. In the meantime, Levy mulled it over, discussing with staff members whether to sack Mourinho sooner rather than later. By the time Mourinho returned from training, Levy had made his mind up.

There is quite a stark contrast to be drawn here with the situation at Manchester United, where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has survived several runs far worse than the one that saw Pochettino and Mourinho (both of them with far better track records) sacked at a club where expectations should be far lower. Manchester United, for better or worse, appears to be a comfortable environment for a manager to operate. Tottenham, for better or worse, does not.

You cannot help wondering how Levy and Conte will function together. Much is made of the demands that Conte places on his players, but he is equally abrasive and forthright with those above him. At Chelsea and Inter Milan he would highlight weaknesses in his squad and demand experienced, battle-hardened players to plug those gaps. It is an approach that barely seems compatible with Tottenham’s wage bill and with Levy’s insistence on running a tight ship. One way or another, something is going to have to give.

Let nobody doubt Levy’s ambition, though. If anything, failure seems to drive him on. If the club’s business this summer — the hiring of Nuno and the signings of Emerson Royal, Pape Sarr and Bryan Gil, plus Pierluigi Gollini and Cristian Romero, initially on loan — seemed low-key, then the mediocrity that was taking hold was unacceptable to Levy. Results were poor and performances arguably even worse, but few would have imagined just a few days ago that Levy would have the nerve or the persuasive powers to go all-in on Conte.

It is worth recalling what Conte said in that video that has resurfaced in the past 24 hours from his time at Chelsea. Back in 2017 he said: “If (Tottenham) don’t win the title, it’s not seen as a tragedy. If they don’t arrive in the Champions League, it’s not a tragedy. If they go out in the first round of the Champions League, it’s not a tragedy. Maybe for Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and — I don’t know — Liverpool, it is a tragedy. You must understand the status of the team. Every team has to understand what their ambitions are. If their ambitions are to fight for the title or win the Champions League, you must buy expensive players. Otherwise you continue to stay in your level. It’s simple. My question is this: what are Tottenham’s expectations?”

It is a question he is certain to have asked Levy over the course of negotiations and no doubt he will be asking again once he has evaluated the squad and determined which players need to be replaced — at considerable expense, at the earliest opportunity. 

But to go back to Conte’s point, Tottenham’s expectations have grown even as their results on the pitch have deteriorated over the past few seasons. In some ways, looking at the sackings of Pochettino and Mourinho, it is possible to wonder whether expectations have risen too high. If anything, Levy seems to judge managers to a harsher standard than his counterparts at Arsenal and Manchester United. He is certainly more willing to deal with difficult characters and less willing to let the grass grow under their feet.

conte-tottenham

Perhaps Conte will prove to be the coach Levy thought he was getting when he hired Mourinho (Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

The question is whether, as the THST warned, a sense of vision has been lost along the way. Did Levy stop thinking about all the building blocks they had kept putting in over the years and become fixated on making the one change that would elevate Tottenham to the famed next level? Did his ambitions, or indeed his ego, spiral out of control?

Perhaps Conte will prove to be the coach Levy thought he was getting when he hired Mourinho. But after the mistakes and missteps of the past few years, the next level seems so distant again. To win the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup or the Europa Conference League would be one thing — a very dear thing for a club that desperately needs trophy success — but to get Tottenham competing for the biggest prizes, as they did for a time under Pochettino, threatens to be so much harder.

And that is the frustration with Levy and ENIC. It does not — it surely cannot — come from the belief that they are terrible owners of the type so many clubs of different sizes are afflicted with. It comes from the recognition that they took Tottenham so far but, by their own admission, “lost sight” of what needed to be done at that point.

Was it complacency? Over-confidence? Parsimony? Lack of ambition? Whatever the answer, that loss of sight or perspective has proved hard to overcome. That moment has gone now and Levy, far from the complacent-looking figure of the Pochettino era, has found himself scrambling around in search of a winning formula.

But there are not many clubs in world football with the profile and the wealth to attract a coach like Antonio Conte — and among the handful who could, there are even fewer with the nerve or the ambition to do so. That Tottenham now belong to that conversation is testament to the progress made in two decades in which they could very easily have been left behind.

What they really need now is trophies to show for that growth. A “trophy manager” alone is no guarantee of that, but it almost certainly helps.

How Antonio Conte’s move to Tottenham can change the course of this Premier League season

Miguel Delaney: Independant Sport

It was during the second half of the abject defeat to Manchester United, as the Tottenham Hotspur crowd began to chant the chairman’s name rather than the manager’s, that a furious Daniel Levy made his decision.

Nuno Espirito Santo was out. Antonio Conte was in. A huge mistake was quickly rectified.

The situation moved extremely fast from Saturday evening to Monday morning but that was because some groundwork had been laid. Spurs had been thinking about replacing Nuno for weeks. Conte, who came close to the job during the summer, was naturally being considered.

Influencing all of that was the situation at Manchester United, and the Italian’s own feelings on it.

Spurs ultimately think they can beat United to the top four this season, which is a real reprieve given how badly they’d messed up their decision-making in the summer. Conte ultimately realised he would not be getting the Old Trafford job any time soon. The United hierarchy had too many reservations, independent of the uncertainty over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future. They see Conte as “another Mourinho”, with all that entails.

That is a mistake, in a similar way to how they may have erred in persisting with Solskjaer in general. United’s win over Spurs on Saturday could come to be seen as one of the season’s turning points, although not in the way that might have been expected from a 3-0 win.

There should be no mistake about this. Conte is no Jose Mourinho, at least not a post-2012 Mourinho.

He is one of about six truly world-class coaches in world football, and four of them are now in the Premier League. It’s just one of them is at White Hart Lane, and not Old Trafford. United’s stance pushed him towards Spurs. Tottenham have just secured a considerable weapon, in what amounts to an arms race between the super clubs.

Conte, in short, is generally worth all the trouble. He can shake up the order of the league. He can restore Spurs to true competitiveness, let alone relevance.

You can feel it around the club now. Spurs are no longer drifting. There’s a spark again before they’ve even played a game under Conte. This was essentially all the benefit they thought they were getting from Mourinho’s initial appointment. It is the right move, both four months too late, and two years too late.

All the staleness, and the manner in which the club was calcifying, has been washed away. For all it can change the Premier League, though, it also says something about where the competition is at.

Leicester City are now in real danger of being pushed aside. They should have been thinking that the top four might finally open up this season, but this is bad news for them. It should also be something of a lament. A club like that can make every good decision for three years, and prove themselves a model operation, but end up with little because the clubs above them just have more money.

On the other side, Spurs meanwhile have pretty much made every wrong decision for the last three years – going right back to how they didn’t invest in the summer of 2018 when Mauricio Pochettino had them on the brink of becoming a truly top team.

Conte’s appointment is down to the work of Pochettino, of course. This is what reaching a recent Champions League final, and becoming a regular Champions League club, ultimately gives you. It gives you that status that attracts managers like the Italian.

This is the power of being a superclub, even if Spurs are only just hanging on to the very bottom tier of that bracket. Many Spurs supporters might rightfully say ENIC’s running of the club has made that position precarious, but it’s equally fair to say that Levy’s wider-perspective decisions have played a large part in putting them there.

The argument now is that he’s got lucky in how this has played into their hands. But that’s also the thing about luck. You have to be in a certain position to avail of it. This is where the size of that stadium helps.

Circumstances have undeniably played into their favour, right up to that defeat to United on Saturday. It has had quite a chain reaction.

You probably couldn’t have a better example of that Buddhist fable about the old monk just telling everyone to “wait and see” made famous in Charlie Wilson’s War. We will have to wait and see on this, too, but Levy has acted with impressive decisiveness.

It will cost him, of course. The Spurs chairman will have to make the investments the club wouldn’t in the summer, not to mention the pay-out to Nuno. They have paid a high price for the initial indecisiveness. The false economy of some of those decisions has been proven. But Levy and Fabio Paratici have swallowed some pride here. They’ve seen their first big appointment together, in Nuno, just wasn’t working.

A more cynical perspective is that this was precisely because the crowd began to sing Levy’s name, and that he knew he had to offer the big signature statement that he had withheld for so long. But that is why it has been decisive. 

It has also represented a decisiveness lacking at Old Trafford. That may well cost United now. They will suddenly have to work that bit harder for top four, because Conte is going to make Spurs work much harder. That is the first message he delivers to any squad, and the first thing they will realise. It will all be so much more intense. Spurs will up it by 10 per cent, and maybe more.

Conte generally extracts much more out of any group of players. That’s a given. For all the criticism about how much he demands from a board, too, the great triumph of his title-winning 2016-17 season at Chelsea was how he quickly figured out a formation that perfectly suited his available players. It was a triumph of tactical adaption, that is beyond most managers.

This is the potent weapon Spurs are really getting. This is the benefit of appointing a coach of such quality, too. Players like Harry Kane know this. An excitement has spread around the squad. They know he can make them much better. It should be exciting for Spurs to imagine the pick-up in so many players.

As Conte has proved with the likes of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso, too, previously dismissed players can look completely different under such a coach. It will be instructive to see what he does with Dele Alli, Matt Doherty, Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso. 

There’s also the promise that his effect is generally quick. Chelsea clicked and went on a title run straight away after the move to three at the back. Italy immediately became one of Europe’s best international sides. Internazionale were instantly transformed into title challengers. So, can he turn a Tottenham team that had been drifting into a Champions League side again?

The reality is there is still a huge gap between the quality of their squad and that of the “new big four”. Conte is a tactical genius but he isn’t an alchemist. The likelihood is still that that big four will finish in the top four.

United alone have a wealth of stars beyond Spurs. Spurs now just have a star manager. But this is the most salient point. Through this appointment, they’ve given themselves the best possible chance of competing. Levy and the Spurs hierarchy may not have taken the best route to get here, but so much has changed since the summer. Conte can now change the course of this season.

Antonio Conte to Tottenham: Why talks broke down in the summer, why its happening now and what to expect

By James Horncastle, The Athletic

Go with what you know.

Fabio Paratici’s first impulse as Tottenham Hotspur’s new managing director of football back in the summer was to call Antonio Conte.

Whatever might have later transpired in the transfer market, Conte would have been the big signing with which Paratici announced himself in the Premier League — a coup perhaps only he could have pulled off for Spurs.

After Nuno Espirito Santo’s dismissal on Monday having been in charge for only 10 Premier League games, it was entirely understandable that an operator as determined as Paratici, the man who surprised everyone in bringing Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus in 2018, would double down and go even harder for Conte.

This time, barring some very late drama, he looks to have succeeded, and the swiftness with which he has acted changes Tottenham’s prospects.

All of a sudden, they will have one of the best coaches in the world, fresh from winning another league title, his fifth in nine seasons of club management, and it shouldn’t be long until they are a force to be reckoned with again.


Why didn’t it happen in the summer?

When Conte became coach of Inter Milan in 2019, he said: “In the beginning I can accept not having much chance of winning, even if, as a limit, it’s just a one per cent chance. There just has to be a chance.”

It was therefore tempting to conclude that in the summer Conte felt Tottenham had no chance whatsoever of challenging for silverware. But that would be an exaggeration.

When Conte judges a project, he evaluates the credibility of the club who are expressing an interest in him. Spurs were not found lacking in this regard. They have the best facilities in the world — Italy used the Lodge at the Tottenham Hotspur training centre as their base before the European Championship final at Wembley in July — and with crowds back to 100 per cent capacity at their £1 billion new stadium following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions the projected uplift in revenue should provide significant monies for recruitment.

The presence of Paratici, with whom Conte worked at Juventus, strengthened Tottenham’s hand and offered the kind of reassurances that Beppe Marotta, another former colleague, provided him with at Inter. Marotta was Juventus’ CEO during Conte’s time in charge there and without him it is unlikely Inter would have been able to persuade the former Italy midfielder to accept their offer to cross one of Serie A’s fiercest divides.

Fabio Paratici

Spurs’ managing director of football Fabio Paratici has worked with Antonio Conte before at Juventus (Photo: Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

Paratici has effectively played the same role for Spurs.

Conte was always his first choice to succeed the sacked Jose Mourinho and knowing as much mattered then as it does now. Still, one or two questions did arise from a very positive Zoom call when Conte’s charisma and sheer force of personality impressed the Spurs hierarchy.

Talks did not break down in the summer over personal terms. The reservations were instead about how much money could be raised through sales, particularly in a market impacted by COVID-19. The future of Harry Kane was still uncertain then, even though Tottenham were determined not to sell him to Manchester City.

Conte had just left Inter in their post-title afterglow, knowing cuts were coming and with the (accurate) feeling that the club’s financial problems would lead to the sales of his top goalscorer (Romelu Lukaku) and a leading assist provider (Achraf Hakimi). It would be incoherent to join another club where the future of their star striker was unclear. Paratici had only just arrived at Tottenham too.

Contrast that with Marotta, who spent six months getting to know the character of Inter’s squad from the inside before Conte’s appointment.

Leaving all that aside, everything seemed to be set… only for Conte to have a change of heart.


So, why is it happening now?

For a start, there are fewer unknowns. In the end, Tottenham didn’t lose Kane after all. Paratici was able to replace Toby Alderweireld with Cristian Romero and you might say it’s somewhat serendipitous Inter were looking at Emerson Royal as a successor to Hakimi at the time of his move from San Siro to Paris Saint-Germain. Players such as Serge Aurier are now gone and while Spurs still have some work to do in reshaping the squad, it’s undeniable they are further along than was the case in July.

As for Conte, he did not leave Inter with the intention of taking a sabbatical. He can’t switch off from football and has spent the last couple of months working as a pundit on Champions League nights for Sky Italia.

As Conte revealed towards the end of his two years coaching Italy from 2014-16, he misses the smell of freshly cut grass at the training ground and likened those months between European Championship qualifiers to being a car that’s been forgotten about in the garage. He needs to rev the engine.

In the summer, Conte could also be forgiven for keeping his options open and staying patient rather than leaping at the first opportunity to come along. The Real Madrid job became available and there were also doubts about whether Mauricio Pochettino would remain at PSG.

How eager Conte is to return to work is signalled by his willingness to forego something sacrosanct to him: a six-week pre-season and open transfer window. He was prepared to make such a compromise in the event the Manchester United job became available mid-season and knows the Premier League is the place to be, now more than ever. While the pandemic hit English football hard, it has come out of it far stronger than its rivals in Italy, Spain, France and Germany —leagues that were already trailing in its wake.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that, in time, United may come to regret not acting on Conte’s interest in taking over at Old Trafford.

Perhaps their hesitation also gave him cause for reflection. If Real Madrid decided to go with what they know by reappointing Carlo Ancelotti, PSG and Pochettino stayed together and United were not courageous enough to break with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it puts Spurs in a new light. More incentive to take these opportunities when they come.

Conte has also had four more months to study European football and will know the strengths and weaknesses of this Tottenham squad and their competition better than he did when he first spoke to the club in the summer, when his focus was exclusively on Inter. He has also had a chance to see how they operated in the ensuing transfer window and what they’re willing to spend. It’s hard to imagine the acquisition of Romero from Atalanta not meeting with his approval.

Coming back to London already had an appeal in the summer.

It’s a city Conte’s family knows and have come back to in the three years since he left Chelsea.


What kind of football can Tottenham fans expect?

Conte is often mischaracterised as a defensive coach. He’s nothing of the sort. Balance is what matters to him and yet his response to Inter losing the 2019-20 Europa League final 3-2 to Sevilla was to make the team even more top-heavy.

Go back to the start of last season and he played two strikers, a No 10 to get Spurs old boy Christian Eriksen (below) into the team and a couple of wingers disguised as wing-backs in Hakimi and Ivan Perisic. At left centre-back was an attacking full-back by the name of Aleksandar Kolarov.

christian-eriksen-inter

(Photo: Paolo Rattini/Getty Images)

By the October, he’d reined that in a little, developing a then 21-year-old Alessandro Bastoni over Kolarov, who turns 36 next week, and leaving Eriksen and Hakimi out, only to reintegrate them in the second half of the season when they had been coached into playing exactly the way he wanted.

Conte’s style is not counter-attacking. He bristled when Fabio Capello made that assertion, for the simple reason it overlooked the meticulously choreographed passing patterns he designed to help lure opponents onto Inter. His players were then taught to neatly play through the pressure and release Lukaku, Hakimi and Lautaro Martinez into wide open spaces where, frankly, they were devastating.

As Juventus and Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini has noted, Conte is a master at getting the best out of strikers, syncing up Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, Graziano Pelle and Eder as well as Lu-La — as Lukaku and Martinez were known in Serie A. Only Atalanta did better than Inter’s 170 top-flight goals in Conte’s two seasons and the difference between them last year was a single goal.

Prepare to see Kane dovetail with a partner as well as he ever has in a Tottenham shirt and for Conte to work on mining the midfield for goals.

Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba and Nicolo Barella have all made breakthroughs in the fulfilment of their true potential under Conte, regularly popping up and making the difference in the opponents’ penalty area. Watching what Conte coaxes out of Tanguy Ndombele promises to be fascinating.

Lost causes may also rediscover their best under him, providing they have the right work ethic and are functional to the system Conte implements.

Andrea Ranocchia had to give up the captain’s armband at Inter years before Conte arrived. He spent time on loan at Sampdoria and Hull City. But Conte made him a valued back-up and the 33-year-old defender rewarded his trust with dependable stand-in performances. The same was true to a greater degree with former Manchester United pair Matteo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez (the latter, incidentally, has been involved in 21 goals in his last 23 Serie A starts for Inter).

While it may not conform exactly to the “Tottenham DNA” that Daniel Levy insisted the club would return to at the end of last season, appointing Conte gets them closer to it than you might imagine and is a compromise worth making.

His football is certainly easier on the eye than anything Nuno could offer and Conte DNA is winning DNA.


What about his man-management?

At Inter, Conte was proud of how he included and engaged every single player. “I coach everyone,” he said.

When the fixture list got congested, as it did during the pandemic, and the injuries pile up, Conte appreciated just how important it was to improve all the 23 players at his disposal. He told those not in the team their time would come and when it did, they would need to care, be prepared and feel involved.

While Lukaku and Martinez grabbed the headlines as the most prolific match-winners on the team, Inter had 17 different goalscorers last season and 18 in Conte’s first season. He blended experience with youth. Age doesn’t matter to Conte as long as you work hard, play hard and perform. Some of the stars of his Inter team — Bastoni, Barella, Martinez and Hakimi were 20, 22 and 21 respectively at the time of his appointment or their acquisition.

(Photo: Fabrizio Carabelli/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Conte will strive to create the “sense of belonging” Italian coaches obsess over. He wants the personal and professional to overlap, so players spend their free time going out for sushi together and forming relationships that go beyond the pitch.

The spirit he imbued at Inter was unbreakable. When wages were deferred during the pandemic and the club experienced financial problems, it was never allowed to affect the team on the pitch. Conte and the players were committed to the cause and each other. When Conte and Martinez had a heated exchange after the Argentinian was substituted against Roma in May, the players organised a comedy boxing match between the pair at the training ground with Lukaku playing the role of MC Michael Buffer.

Conte will make Tottenham a family again.


Who will be coming with him?

Conte is renowned for having a large backroom staff, which underlines his attention to detail.

Don’t expect it to swell to the size it reached at Inter. Antonio Pintus, the renowned fitness trainer who worked with Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, is back at the Spanish giants. Matteo Pincella, the nutritionist credited with transforming Lukaku’s diet, stayed on at Inter after Conte left and also continues to work with the Italian national team. Other assistants from his time at Chelsea, such as Angelo Alessio, have struck out on their own.

Conte will be flanked by Cristian Stellini, who stands in for him when he’s serving a touchline ban and sees his role as making the boss understand the club he joins, and making the players understand him. Conte’s brother Gianluca will collaborate with the match analysts in preparing film to study opponents. Long video analysis sessions with the two-hours-plus running time of a Dune and No Time To Die are a trademark of Conte and were the subject of the thesis he submitted for his coaching badges. “Players can’t make excuses in front of the (video)tape”, is one of Conte’s sayings.

In Pintus’ place, you can expect Stefano Bruno and Costantino Coratti to be licking the players into prime shape. Tottenham will not be bottom of the league table in distance covered for very long. On the contrary, they’ll be back to Pochettino-era fitness levels in no time, if not fitter.

Bruno began working with Conte when he was starting in management at Arezzo in the mid-2000s and places particular emphasis on recovery and prevention. “How you eat and sleep are also important aspects when it comes to getting results,” he said during his time at Inter.

As for Hugo Lloris and Pierluigi Gollini, it might be the case that Conte promotes a goalkeeping coach from within, as was the case in his last job. Wakeboard enthusiast Gianluca Spinelli, a colleague with Italy and at Chelsea, is now at PSG and has been ever since Gianluigi Buffon spent 2018-19 at the Parc des Princes.


How long does it take him to get his teams looking good?

Typically, no time at all.

Conte’s teams tend to come out of the blocks like peak Usain Bolt in the Olympic 100m final. They actually make a marathon look like a sprint, so hard do his sides run.

Juventus became only the third Italian team of all time to go undefeated in his 2011-12 debut season. Chelsea won their opening three Premier League games with Conte in the dugout. Inter also made a statement from the get-go, blowing away Lecce, their new manager’s hometown club, 4-0 at San Siro in August 2019 and taking maximum points from their first six Serie A matches.https://theathletic.com/report/podcast-clip?clip_id=4711

That said, the circumstances are different at Tottenham.

This is the first time Conte has taken a job in-season since 2007-08 when he stepped in for Marco Materazzi’s Giuseppe at second-division Bari just after Christmas. He comfortably saved them from relegation, then took them up as Serie B champions a year later.

A more recent comparison can be made with how he prepared Italy for the European Championship in France. Conte spent the year building up to the finals dabbling with 4-3-3, aware that the squad’s most talented players at the time were wingers.

“In those 50 days (of preparation between training camp starting and the Euros ending), Antonio completed a masterpiece,” defender Chiellini explained. “At international level, you only see your manager and team-mates in the autumn, then you say, ‘Cheerio’, and meet up again in March. If you miss a call-up in the spring because of a slight injury it means you’re not around the national team for six months. The match calendar is extremely unbalanced in that regard.

“Conte was then forced into a change too. He had built his system around Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti and then lost both of them — Claudio did his ACL, Marco needed an operation on his groin. Antonio had to start from scratch and redesign everything. We worked every single minute in France.”

It showed.

Conte made a national team play like a finely-tuned club side in no time at all, compressing his ideas and articulating them so well that the most underwhelming squad Italy has sent to a major tournament since the 1950 World Cup looked like they might actually win Euro 2016 before then-world champions Germany beat them on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Make no mistake, time will be at an even greater premium at Tottenham with a mix of Premier League, Carabao Cup, Europa Conference League, the November internationals and the relentless Christmas to New Year programme on the horizon. At least with Italy, Conte was able to call on players such as Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, who were so well-versed in his system from their time under him at Juventus they could fast-track the system change. He does not have the same know-how in the Tottenham squad so will need time.

Don’t be surprised to hear him initially call for patience then.

Expectation management is tough when you are instantly welcomed as a guarantee of trophies.

While it may take a little longer than usual for Conte to start racking up win after win at Spurs, it’ll be worth it in the end.

(Main graphic — Photos: Getty Images/Design: Sam Richardson)

Nuno Espirito Santo relying on stale remnants of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham team

By Miguel Delaney The Independant

Shortly before Nuno Espirito Santo came back out for his post-game interview, the stewards at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium made a point of clearing out all the fans that had gathered.

Continue reading “Nuno Espirito Santo relying on stale remnants of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham team”

Tottenham v Man Utd

TEAM NEWS

Tottenham head coach Nuno Espirito Santo says the club are assessing Bryan Gil, who was injured during the team’s midweek EFL Cup victory.

Dele Alli and Harry Winks may return after missing out against Burnley but Ryan Sessegnon remains out.

Manchester United are boosted by the news that both Raphael Varane and Anthony Martial have returned to training and are available.

Paul Pogba is ruled out as he begins a three-match ban.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Tottenham have lost 36 Premier League matches against Manchester United, more than versus any other opponent.
  • Spurs have won just six of their 29 home matches against United in the Premier League (D9, L14).
  • The Red Devils are unbeaten in their last three away league games against Tottenham (W2, D1).

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Nuno Espirito Santo is looking to avoid becoming the first Spurs boss to lose five of his first 10 Premier League matches in charge since Christian Gross in 1997-98.
  • All five of Tottenham’s league victories this season have been by a single-goal margin.
  • Harry Kane has scored one goal in his past eight Premier League appearances.
  • Kane’s most recent home league goal was against Wolves last season, who were managed at the time by Nuno Espirito Santo.
  • Son Heung-min scored three goals in his two games against Manchester United last season.

Manchester United

  • Manchester United are in danger of suffering three consecutive Premier League defeats for the first time since December 2015.
  • Their three Premier League defeats in the past four matches is as many as they lost in their previous 37 games (W23, D11).
  • They have conceded 10 league goals in October so far, more than any other side. They have never conceded more than 11 in one month in Premier League history.
  • The Red Devils could lose four of their opening 10 games of a top-flight season for the first time since 1990-91.
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have kept just one clean sheet in 21 matches in all competitions.
  • Bruno Fernandes could go six consecutive Premier League appearances without a goal for the first time.
  • Mason Greenwood is one away from becoming the youngest United player to reach 10 Premier League away goals since Wayne Rooney in 2004.

BBC Sport

Lucas Moura strikes to send Tottenham through and add to Burnley misery

Jamie Jackson The Guardian at Turf Moor

Tottenham are into the next round and will not care how they spluttered against the equally misfiring Burnley. In a tie where classy moments were scarce the winner came from a sole sparkling sequence that had Emerson Royal roving along the right-back’s flank before his delivery was met by Lucas Moura’s cool header.

On this showing Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Manchester United would seem to have an ideal opponent on Saturday against whom to arrest their dire form, though Tottenham were only at half-strength.

For Burnley this outing was the story of their campaign: disappointing and offering little optimism they can transform their play into what they need to start doing soon with regularity – be victorious. Burnley’s sole win in their 12 matches remains the previous round’s 4-1 knockout of Rochdale.

Sean Dyche said: “It’s hard to fault them at the minute. There are a lot of things they are doing right. We’ve got to turn the corner. It’s frustrating for me to keep saying it, but we’re not far away. They are doing everything to make it happen.”

Harry Kane, Cristian Romero, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Oliver Skipp and Emerson Royal were a first‑choice quintet retained by Nuno Espírito Santo from the defeat at West Ham on Sunday but Harry Winks and Dele Alli were left out completely.

Tottenham’s manager was asked if the latter pair will feature when United visit. “They are our players so anything is possible,” he said. “This is my answer. We continue to focus on getting the best out of each of our players. Dele is one of the cases we have to try and improve.”

Spurs were pinned back for the majority of the opening period: possession was scant and their ideas with it even less. Steven Bergwijn certainly had the right intent when Emerson swung the ball over from the right but the forward’s volley became an embarrassing miskick, to the delight of the Burnley faithful.

Bryan Gil had been forced off with what appeared a muscular problem and his replacement, Lucas Moura, infused required pace into Tottenham as one burst through the centre illustrated. Missing, though, was simple quality.

When Højbjerg tried to dazzle with footwork but ran the ball straight out this was his team and a below-par first half in microcosm. The sides were soporific and thus any error might be the only way the deadlock would be broken. Kane supplied one of these yet in falling backwards and spraying an effort skywards it was the wrong type.

A quarter-final berth beckoned for the team who moved into any sort of gear. After the interval Spurs did so, at last moving the ball quickly forward as Moura and Kane tried – unsuccessfully – to sneak behind Ben Mee and the rest of the captain’s rearguard. This sparked Burnley. Erik Pieters floated the ball to Johann Berg Gudmundsson, whose header to Matej Vydra should have been finished but Spurs escaped.

As the hour mark approached it was difficult to remember if either Nick Pope or Pierluigi Gollini had made a save, so lacking in edge was the action. A hardly packed Turf Moor raised the volume to inspire greater fare and when Kane fed Giovani Lo Celso his stabbed attempt at last had Pope needing his reflexes to repel.

Now Nuno sent on Son Heung-min and Tanguy Ndombele for Bergwijn and Skipp – a proactive move – and Spurs scored, Moura beating Pope. Burnley rallied and Maxwel Cornet saw a cross kicked away by Davinson Sánchez. But Tottenham ended far happier at the final whistle

Falling revenues and rising costs – the numbers behind the Super League Plot

By Keiran Maguire, The Athletic

In Robert Aldrich’s critically acclaimed 1967 film The Dirty Dozen, 12 convicts are given a chance to save the Allies if they successfully complete a difficult wartime mission with the promise of a pardon if they were successful. The film, starring Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Ernest Borgnine, was released to rave reviews and became a box-office smash.

In 2021, a new “Dirty Dozen” appeared. Twelve football club owners were given a chance to save football if they created a new competition with the promise of huge amounts of cash if they were successful. The European Franchise Super League (ESL) starring Florentino Perez, Andrea Agnelli and the Glazer family was released to a series of raspberries and was a resounding flop, although a sequel of some sort is still possible.

According to Perez, the Super League was needed to “save football” and “we don’t want the rich to be richer and the poor poorer”, which seemed strange as the proposals would have meant that the financial rewards of the competition would be concentrated in the pockets of the 12 (although in theory, this would expand to 15) founder members.

But while it is easy to mock Perez, whose claims would, on the face of things, seem barely credible, does he have a point that there was a need for European football to have a reset and that it is facing an existential crisis?

Ask any businessperson about financial survival and success and they will tell you that it is all about revenue, costs, profits and cash. We have therefore reviewed the accounts of clubs in 2018-19, pre-COVID-19, and compared to their results since then.


Income

Total revenues for the 12 Super League clubs overall fell by more than 12 per cent following COVID-19.

It should be noted that some of the figures shown are for 2019-2020 and others for 2020-21, as only a few clubs have reported financial results for the most recent season.

The decrease in income of the 12 founder members was almost £700 million. This figure is likely to increase as more results are published. Those clubs who have only published their 2019-20 financials just show the impact of COVID-19 on the final few months of the season.

How long it will take clubs to recover financially in full is uncertain too, so the nervousness of owners and executives is understandable. Therefore owners’ desire to “de-risk” clubs as much as possible through a sealed franchise competition is understandable from a business perspective.

On an individual club basis, before the pandemic, Real Madrid proudly boasted of compound revenue growth of 11 per cent a year, which equates to an increase of 184 per cent over a decade. Such spectacular growth seems inconsistent with Perez’s claim that football “is in a critical moment” with its existence in doubt.

Barcelona have seen their total income fall by a quarter since 2019 as the stadium, with its museum and other facilities, has historically been a magnet for fans and tourists both on match and non-match days.

As far as Italian football is concerned, the three who were planning to join the Super League (and remember Juventus have not announced their intention to withdraw), were operating at revenue levels substantially lower than those of most of the other clubs. Therefore the Super League was an attractive proposition as it gave a potential boost to their finances and would have allowed them to narrow the gap, as Super League revenues would be a greater proportion of overall income.

The money coming into football comes from three main sources: match day, broadcast and commercial.


Match-day income

Match-day revenue is calculated by multiplying tickets sold per match by the number of matches and the average ticket price. Even for clubs with large fanbases, there is limited scope to generate huge revenue, as seen by Chelsea’s flatlining match-day income in recent years.

In terms of tickets sold, most Super League clubs already sell out their home matches as they have both large numbers of season ticket holders (“legacy fans,” according to Perez) as well as match-day ticket sales (sold to plastic/glory-seeking/tourist fans according to some elitist season ticket holders).

Therefore, ground expansion would be required to sell more tickets, and that is expensive, especially with rising material costs in the construction industry.

It also takes time to expand stadiums due to planning regulations and the architectural challenge of expanding an already large building structure. It has not, however, prevented Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool from publishing plans for ground expansion, but that does not guarantee future sold-out stadiums.

Some clubs have further issues in that there is little or no land surrounding their existing stadiums and this makes expansion physically impossible or so expensive that the costs outweigh the benefits.

The Super League cheerleaders will point out that Pep Guardiola had a recent ill-advised gripe at Manchester City’s fanbase when “only” 38,000 turned up to see the Champions League finalists play against RB Leipzig in a group game.

The argument put forward by Perez is that more people would turn up to watch if the opponents were all “big” clubs, so then all group games of a Super League would sell out. This again seems to be slightly optimistic as the original Super League plans involved 20 teams, and some would be less attractive draws than others, especially the five “invited” clubs each season.

Can the number of fixtures be increased? The Dirty Dozen had already extracted from UEFA an expansion of the Champions League via the so-called Swiss model. From 2024, out goes the eight groups of four teams (32 clubs in total) and in comes a single 36-team league, in which each club will play 10 games: five at home, five away. For clubs such as Real Madrid or Barcelona, those five home games could be worth about £5 million per match.

Recent comments from managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Guardiola suggest that player burnout is a genuine concern and that there is limited scope to increase the number of fixtures further. More Super League games would have to come with cuts elsewhere, mainly in domestic competitions, such as the Premier League going from 20 to 18 teams or the Carabao Cup either being abolished or restricted to clubs who are not playing in European competitions.

The reduction in domestic fixtures would also allow Super League clubs to play more lucrative friendly matches pre- and post-season, and there was also scope for some Super League matches to be played at third-party venues. Super League games in Dubai, Beijing or New York would be hugely attractive and local promoters would pay handsomely for the privilege of hosting these global brands.

Can ticket prices be increased to raise revenues? People will, in general, be willing to pay more for a glamorous opponent. Therefore selling tickets and hospitality packages at premium prices at Stamford Bridge in the 2021-22 group stages of the Champions League for Chelsea vs Juventus is relatively easy. When it comes to Malmo or Zenit Saint Petersburg, less so.

According to its architects, the Super League is the solution — by restricting the competition to just the “big” teams, more money can be extracted from fans as there will be more attractive ties every season.


Broadcast income

The Super League also claimed that more money would be generated from broadcast income, as rights holders would be confident of big audiences for Real Madrid vs Liverpool and Juventus vs Manchester United.

Presently UEFA has to distribute broadcast money between 32 clubs, but the Super League cash would be mainly given to the 12-15 founder members, increasing their coffers. How this would leave other clubs such as Ajax, who have won four more European Cups than Super League founder members Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur combined, is uncertain. Ajax made £67 million in broadcast payments from reaching the Champions League semi-final in 2018-19.

Perez claimed that the Super League broadcast deal would be so lucrative that those clubs who were not members would be better off too as they would receive solidarity payments. However, no broadcaster ever admitted to having signed up for the competition rights, and the distribution model was never seen, so we will just have to take his word on this.

Under the proposals, Super League clubs would also have been able to sell their own rights directly to the consumer, as opposed to this being arranged centrally by the competition itself. This is very attractive to clubs such as Real Madrid, who generated £644 million in 2018-19 pre-COVID-19 but claim to have 490 million fans. This works out as £1.31 per fan per year, which seems low.

Monetising the fanbase is the holy grail of every club executive. If Real Madrid could persuade just 2 per cent of their supposed fanbase (10 million fans) to pay £10 each for a pay-per-view match (and remember the EFL iFollow service charges £10 for a relatively threadbare service) this would generate £100 million from a single match. This compares to the £195 million in 2019-20 Real received from broadcast income for the whole season.

The big cheeses at the Bernabeu and other Super League clubs have been frustrated at the continued pushback from other clubs and administrators to allow direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales of match rights by individual clubs. Having the ability to dictate how broadcast rights are distributed is very attractive to these large clubs.


Commercial income

Commercial income had plateaued for some Super League clubs even pre-pandemic. Manchester United, for example, are the beneficiary of spectacular initial growth following the acquisition by the Glazer family but have seen little change since 2016.

Super League clubs were confident that annual guaranteed matches against other elite clubs would kick-start commercial growth once more as the glamour and viewer interest they generate would be attractive to sponsors.


Costs

There is no point boosting revenues if Sir Alan Sugar’s “prune juice” observation is true and additional income flows straight through to players and their representatives via higher wages and fees.

Players and clubs sign fixed contracts, which historically have not had clauses relating to COVID-19 or other global disasters. As a result, the football industry was ill-prepared for what happened and the wage totals for the 12 Super League clubs have slightly increased since 2019 despite the fall in income.

Although Barcelona’s wage bill fell in 2020-21, they had increased by over a quarter the previous season — the recruitment of Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann for £100 million-plus deals, plus Lionel Messi and others on already lucrative contracts. It created a perfect storm at the club in terms of its finances.

Overall, the wage total of £3.1 billion had a marginal increase in absolute terms post-COVID-19. Compared to income though, wages increased from £58 for every £100 of income in 2018-19 to £65 since clubs started reporting their post-COVID-19 results. This is likely to rise further as more Super League clubs report their 2020-21 results.

One of the Super League proposals was a wage cap of £55 for every £100 of income. Such a rule, combined with some form of agreement between the clubs not to sign/poach each other’s players, would reduce wage inflation.

By having an agreement to not trade players between Super League clubs, agents would find it more difficult to hawk their clients to the highest bidder.


Profits… and losses

In 2018-19, the Super League clubs made a collective pre-tax loss of just under £45 million. This, especially for some of the American owners used to their sporting franchises being very lucrative businesses, is unacceptably low. Given that profit is income minus costs, COVID-19-related reductions in income and static costs meant that these losses ballooned to more than £1.1 billion in the most recent accounts. These losses are likely to have grown further once the full set of figures for 2020-21 are known.

Barcelona’s losses are the most talked about, although COVID-19 is perhaps a convenient smokescreen for the financial mismanagement that has existed for some time. Inter Milan’s losses for 2020-21 were a record for an Italian club. It is no surprise that Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi were both sold in the most recent transfer window to offset the losses made in the previous season.

There is no doubt that the Super League would allow clubs to recover from the impact of COVID-19 quicker than the existing domestic and European structures.

Profits belong to owners, and they can either reinvest them back into clubs or withdraw them. A Super League with higher revenues, greater cost control and less risk due to guaranteed participation would generate higher sale prices for the clubs themselves if ever put up for sale.

In American franchise sports, the asking prices when clubs are sold is often 10-12 times annual revenues. In European countries, this is a fraction of the sum. Newcastle’s recent sale to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was less than twice the club’s annual revenues.

At the same time, how it would leave those clubs excluded from the Super League is uncertain as they would be playing fewer matches in less popular competitions. This would have a detrimental impact on attracting investment into the industry, and would amplify the existing large financial gaps between Super League clubs and others.

The change of ownership of Premier League clubs such as EvertonAston Villa and Newcastle by wealthy individuals in recent years indicates that the hope of breaking into the top four of the Premier League and qualifying for the Champions League is still an attractive proposition for investors.

The big clubs, especially in the Premier League, fear competition. Following Leicester winning the competition in 2016, the Big Six of Liverpool, Manchester United and City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea managed to negotiate a bigger share of the broadcast revenues for themselves to increase the gap to the “Other 14”. This was aimed at ensuring that no other clubs “stole” a lucrative Champions League place that the Big Six consider to be theirs as a right rather than through sporting merit.

When the PIF takeover of Newcastle United was announced, Manchester United’s share price, which had taken a steep dive following the announcement of the Glazer family selling 9.5 million shares earlier in the week, fell a further 2.5 per cent. Six clubs chasing four places in the Champions League is tricky. Newcastle potentially turning that into seven makes it more difficult.

The Super League is a fantastic, lucrative business idea for each founder member — more income, better cost control and guaranteed participation. So even if a club such as Newcastle is subject to a takeover, the Super League clubs would be able to console themselves that they would still be playing each other every season.

As for the rest of football, for anyone who has been brought up on the romantic notion of football having some form or sporting integrity, those clubs would have to feed on whatever is left.