The Antonio Conte era at Tottenham Hotspur is truly past it’s honeymoon phase. After a string of poor results that saw Spurs lose to the likes of Wolves, Southampton, Burnley and Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, it confirms another trophy-less season for the Italian’s side.
That being said, Spurs showed the potential of the club in a courageous, passion filled performance at the Etihad stadium. Completing the double over reigning champions Manchester City, as well as the thrashings of Everton and Leeds United.
Spurs find themselves 5th at the time of writing following a win against West Ham, three points off 4th placed rivals Arsenal having played a game more, yet the inconsistency of this Spurs side remains the biggest frustration for the Lilywhites faithful.
Antonio Conte is one of the best managers to ever stand on a touchline and the philosophy he wants to implement at Tottenham is slowly becoming clearer to see.
Defensive solidity, an ability to build up from the back, attacking wing backs executing a direct wing play system and a never say die fighting spirit. That is the expectation from the fervent Italian.
However, it is obvious that he does not have all the right tools for success.
Director of Football Fabio Paratici laid siege to the Tottenham squad in the January window, in an attempt to begin the ‘painful rebuild’ former manager Mauricio Pochettino had spoken about in 2019.
Tanguy Ndombele, Giovanni Lo Celso and Bryan Gil all left on loan, while Dele Alli left permanently for Everton.
Spurs brought in Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur, two players who have made immediate contributions, with Bentancur showing the calmness and forward thinking that the Spurs midfield has lacked, while Kulusevski has 6 goals/assists in 9 Premiere League games at the time of writing.
Unfortunately, this was not enough at all. With just 4 senior midfielders, the persistent injury that Oliver Skipp is dealing with and an injury to Bentancur against Burnley left Conte with just Harry Winks and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg as senior midfielders.
This midfield lacks any form of creativity and is a much more ‘safe and secure’ pairing, which was evident in the 1-0 loss to EFL Championship side Middlesborough.
In addition, the performances of Emerson Royal have been so poor that he has been displaced by Matt Doherty, a player who was on the verge of being sold in January, fuelling Spurs fans anger at the board for not securing a new right wing-back after chasing Barcelona’s Adama Traore for 28 days of the window.
With Conte himself saying that on paper the Spurs side had weakened in January, it is imperative that he is backed all the way in the summer.
With that said, 3 positions Spurs need to strengthen are: a new right wing-back, a creative midfielder and a left sided central defender.
Left Central Defender
Antonio Conte has always had tough tackling, mentally strong, capable ball playing central defenders in his time as a manager. The list includes Giorgio Chiellini, Leanardo Bonucci, Milan Skriniar and so on. At Tottenham, Eric Dier and Cristian Romero look to be 2 of the 3 defenders Conte needs.
Conte has had relative success deploying Ben Davies as the left centre-back in the 3-4-3, but the Welshman simply has too many flaws to be a starter in a team that supposedly has aspirations beyond achieving a top four place.
Josko Gvardiol has been a revelation on the left-centre side of RB Liepzig’s 4 man defence and would be a step in the right direction for Tottenham.
Ben Davies has used his understanding of his natural left full-back position to great use in the back 3, stepping forward and carrying the ball, playing one-two’s with the wing back. This is a tactical facet that will not be lost with Gvardiol.
Valued at 25 million Euros by Transfermarkt, Gvardiol has completed 1.7 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per match, being dribbled past 0.7 times a game. Being part of the top club in the Red Bull network, Gvardiol is also an adept presser who can step out of the backline to interrupt play, and is extremely capable with the ball at his feet.
Having failed to secure the signing of Adama Traore in January, the conundrum Spurs face at right wing-back has persisted. 25 million pound signing Emerson Royal is more suited to a full-back role in a back 4, and Matt Doherty has never truly discovered his form from his days at Wolves in a Tottenham shirt.
According to Fabrizio Romano, Tottenham Hotspur scouts have monitored Torino’s Wilfried Singo as a potential replacement to Emerson and Doherty. The Ivorian would be available for around 15 million pounds.
Singo has really come to life as the right wing-back in Torino’s 3-5-2 formation and has attracted major interest from Spurs, Arsenal and Newcastle to name a few clubs.
It is clear to see why from the underlying stats. With 3 goals and 4 assists, Singo is completing 2.2 tackles and interceptions a match, with 1.2 shots, 0.7 key passes and 1 dribble a game.
These stats compare reasonably to Kyle Walker’s stats from the 2016/2017 season, with Torino playing an equally aggressive pressing system compared to Pochettino’s prime Spurs side, allowing opponents only allowing 7.71 passes per defensive action, the 3rd best in Europe’s top five leagues.
Singo looks like the perfect player to lock down the wing-back spot on the right hand side of Antonio Conte’s Tottenham side and at just 21 years old, suits the long term transfer strategy that Fabio Paratici wants to implement in the recruitment department at Tottenham.
After watching Aston Villa steal Phillipe Coutinho on a well structured loan deal where the Brazilian has contributed 7 goals/assists in 9 appearances, Spurs fans were again left frustrated at the clubs failure to acquire a creative midfielder.
It has been over 2 years since creative fulcrum Christian Eriksen parted ways with Spurs and the hole he left behind in the starting eleven remains prominent.
A potential transfer for Spurs would be Atalanta’s Russian Malinovskyi. The Ukrainian has scored 10 and assisted 5 in all competitions this season, and is playing 1.6 key passes per match in Serie A, the same as Coutinho, although neither come close to Eriksen’s 3.6 in the 16/17 season.
Malinovskyi’s is also a specialist set piece taker, another quality that walked out the door of Hotspur Way in Enfield with Eriksen.
With Malinovskyi’s contract expiring in 2023, Atalanta may be easier to negotiate with in the coming summer transfer window.
Paratici’s expertise are at their best in the Italian market, so a transfer like this would make sense and with a value of 30 million euros according to Transfermarkt, this would be an astitute signing in line with the Spurs budget.
It is clear to see that Daniel Levy wants Tottenham Hotspur to end their 14 year trophy doubt sooner rather than later, but it is time for the chairman to put his money where his mouth is, rather than penny pinching in order to secure bargain deals.
Antonio Conte is a manager who is known for walking away from jobs when he is not given the players to win titles, and if Levy wants to prevent another managerial appointment ending in flames, he must act decisively in the coming transfer window.