Turgid Tottenham toil up top to prove Conte must tinker with tactics


fter a turgid 90 minutes at Deutsche Bank Park, Antonio Conte’s prickly pre-match soundbites remained the most memorable element of Tottenham’s 48 hours here.

An improved Spurs performance, undermined by wastefulness in the final third, was a vindication of sorts for Conte, who had claimed the only thing missing from his side in the 3-1 defeat to Arsenal was a final ball.

Spurs were more front-foot than for most of this season and created some fine openings, but somehow never looked likely to score.

The display will not put an end to questions about Conte’s selections and tactics, which the head coach had so fiercely defended before the game, when he insisted he is “not stupid” and “can teach football to many people”.

Those comments suggested Conte was always unlikely to drastically change his approach in the wake of a first domestic defeat of the season at Arsenal, and he stuck with the same 11 players last night.

Clearly, Conte believes he knows best and, for the most part, his armchair critics can only speculate as to whether Spurs would improve if he followed their advice.

We simply do not know if playing Djed Spence or Matt Doherty at right wing-back, adding Yves Bissouma to the midfield, or giving more minutes to Oliver Skipp or Bryan Gil would make a material difference, because Conte has so far been unwilling to adjust his approach this season. Most criticisms of the Italian remain hypothetical.

One thing, though, is increasingly obvious: Spurs are a less dangerous side in a 3-4-3 without Dejan Kulusevski, suggesting Conte should consider tweaking his system until the Swede has recovered from a hamstring strain.

There were glimpses from Harry Kane, Heung-min Son and Richarlison last night, but the final pass or finish was always missing, and there was a clunkiness to their play in the final third. In possession, Rodrigo Bentancur or Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who were both impressive, dropped into the back three to allow Emerson Royal to push high up the right flank, into the area usually occupied by Kulusevski.

Emerson’s omnipresence remains the biggest point of contention for many fans but, for all he is trusted by Conte, the Brazilian is not remotely capable of matching Kulusevski’s incisiveness in the final third.

We have to be more clinical admits Conte after Tottenham draw at Frankfurt

Richarlison — Kulusevski’s direct replacement in the XI — was typically boisterous and created two good openings for Son, but was also frequently in the way and guilty of losing possession with heavy touches or forays down blind alleys. Son, too, continued his shaky pre-Leicester form, and missed the target with a curling effort in the second half, having earlier failed to find Kane at the back post.

Richarlison has clearly been a much-needed addition to Conte’s squad, but he is a better like-for-like replacement for Son, who is all about end product, and is obviously capable of being a rotation option for Kane, too.

He does not, however, replicate Kulusevski’s ability to link midfield and attack, and knit together the front line in Conte’s 3-4-3.

Before the match, Conte insisted his side are not dependent on Kulusevski, but also acknowledged that his preferred formation is more functional when he is available, and until the 22-year-old is fit again, there is a case for switching to a front two, with an extra man in midfield.

Conte is hopeful of having Kulusevski available for Saturday’s visit to Brighton or the reverse fixture against Frankfurt in London, a week today.

If he is not fit this weekend, starting Bissouma against his former club and switching to a 3-5-2 appears a smart option, particularly as the Seagulls are more than capable of overrunning Spurs with their slick possession play.

Conte will also need to decide on a replacement for Emerson, who will miss the next three League games through suspension. His absence might force Conte to finally give Doherty or Spence a chance, but nothing is likely to transform Spurs more than Kulusevski’s return.

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