The minimum you expect and almost always get from Antonio Conte’s team is defensive stability.
His title-winning teams at Juventus, Chelsea and Inter were built around a solid structure, an often indestructible back line and the primary goal of limiting the opposition’s chances.
This continued when Conte took charge of Tottenham in November last season. After some early teething problems, they won 10 of their last 14 matches to qualify for the Champions League. While they have beaten Everton, Newcastle United and Norwich City five times during this run, and Leeds United and Aston Villa four each, their success has, in true Conte style, been underpinned by a strong defence. Tottenham have conceded eight goals in these 14 games.
Their start to the season has also been solid enough, with seven goals in their first seven league matches.
Since then? Thirteen league games, three clean sheets, 24 goals conceded.
Defense accidents are a recurring theme.
Spurs have scored at least two goals in 12 of their 20 league games this season. In fact, it has been the case in all but one of their last 10 league games.
They have conceded the most goals of any of the top 12 teams in the division. They have scored more than even West Ham United and Everton, who sit in the draw zone.
Their defensive record is almost as bad as it has been in Conte’s managerial career.
Apart from a brief 13-match stint in charge of Atalanta in 2009-10, Conte’s sides have conceded just one goal each season as he really came into his own as a manager in charge of Bari. In 2009, won the B series title.
That Bari team scored 35 goals in a 42-game title campaign. Atalanta missed 35 in 42 – again after Sienna’s arrival. In three years at Juventus, his granite backline – the fabled BBC defense of Barcagli, Bonucci and Chiellini – allowed Conte to score 20, 24 and 23 Serie A goals in his seasons. An incredible record.
The most goals Conte’s team have conceded in an entire campaign (two with Chelsea, two with Inter) since returning to manage the club with Chelsea in 2016 after a stint as Italy manager is 38. So, every goal is never bad. the game.
Spurs are conceding an average of 1.55 goals per game this season, which is slightly worse than the 1.53 their Atalanta team recorded when they conceded 20 goals in 13 games. It’s miles away from what Conte is used to.
It’s a record that will hinder Tottenham’s attempts to achieve anything this season unless they can overcome the all too familiar flaws that were on display again against Manchester City at the Etihad last night.
Missing soft targets? Check up. Do you react badly to adversity? Check up. Blank marking? Yes i do. Hugo Lloris mistake? Yes i do.
And this is where the finger-pointing gets even murkier.
It’s not Conte’s fault that, at 36, goalkeeper Lloris is constantly making noises, or that Eric Dier fell off a cliff after his belated recall to the England squad in the autumn, or that Clement Lenglet decided to cover a penalty. Riyad Mahrez has been helped here, either Christian Romero is not half the player he has been this season, or his wing-backs are not up to the standard required for a regular Conte team.
Yes, it’s all there. But Conte has another situation was were getting defensive tone from almost all of the same players last season. And they looked fierce at the start of this affair. After that, the schedule got tough (13 games in 43 days, with a midweek off), a small squad was plagued with injuries, and the Spurs have found it easy to score since then.
Given this schedule, injuries and the World Cup, there are mitigating factors here, but you’d say there are a few players on this team who have improved significantly over the last half year. Some went backwards.
Individual form is one thing, tactics another, but Conte this week poured cold water on his suggestion to abandon his famous formula and 3-4-3 formation.
He has played at the back four times before, including spells at Juventus and Chelsea, but since switching to the title-winning 3-4-3 at Stamford Bridge at the start of the 2016-17 season, that decision has changed not just the league, but the league. a team – he is very married to it, except for the exact game of 3-5-2.
“To play four at the back, you have to have defenders with special characteristics,” Conte said in midweek. “At Chelsea I started with 4-2-3-1 and then I changed because the characteristics of the players were not good enough to play a 4-ball. When I came to Tottenham last season, I knew it was the best decision to exploit the characteristics of the players. In the future, maybe we’ll try to change, but if we (do that and) lose, then I’m vindicated. ok?”
The only time he started in a back four for Spurs was in the 4-4-2 against Chelsea in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final in January last year. How can it be today? Maybe 4-3-3: Lloris; Emerson Royal/Matt Doherty, Romero, Dye/Lenglet, Ivan Perisic/Ryan Sessegnon; Rodrigo Bentancourt, Yves Bisuma, Pierre-Emile Hoibjerg; Dejan Kulusewski, Harry Kane, Richarlison/Song Hyun Min.
Who will benefit from the transfer? Bissuma for one. You’d expect more control in midfield, but who plays left-back isn’t a clear choice, and removing a full-back when you’re delivering goals feels like an unexpected move, especially when scoring elsewhere. the end is not the issue now.
“It’s not good to concede four goals,” he said after yesterday’s loss, which marked the first time in his career he can remember his team scoring four goals in one half.
“This type of game (2-0 up at half-time), with more experience you never lose. You can buy experience, but we should try to buy experience step by step. This season, I can tell you, we’ve just started the process of trying to be competitive, so we’re working on that aspect as well.
“An experienced team will never concede four goals. If we concede four goals, the first person responsible is the coach, then the players.
“Maybe we need to work on being tighter in defense. But a missed goal depends on the whole team.”
More experience (or, indeed, better quality), as Conte himself says, is not coming anytime soon. The growing pain will continue.
But if Spurs are to reverse the negative trend of their season, something will have to change – because the alternative appears to be the same.
(Top photo: Tom Flaters/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)
The AthleticSpanish football coverage has expanded…