Tottenham’s poor recruitment catches up with them | Sports News
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Tottenham defender Emerson Royal
Tottenham’s game on Saturday night will mark Antonio Conte’s 20th birthday and the mini-anniversary presents the toughest test of his reign to date with champions – and longtime admirers of Harry Kane – Manchester City awaiting.
Conte’s return to the Premier League was a major blow for Daniel Levy and was touted by many as the precursor to the Lilywhites’ return to the league after the disappointing reigns of Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo.
However, the weekend’s 2-0 loss to Wolves marked the first time since 2009 that a Conte side have suffered three consecutive defeats and if his men leave the Etihad empty-handed it will be the first time in 18 years that a Spurs team loses. four league matches in a row.
Conte said after the Wolves game: “For me it’s very difficult to talk about fourth place because I’m used to playing for other targets.”
So what went wrong?
The number one problem both Conte and sporting director Fabio Paratici face is poor recruitment at the club over the past four years.
Since the 2019-20 season, Spurs have signed ten players for £15million or more – Tanguy Ndombele, Cristian Romero, Steven Bergwijn, Sergio Reguilon, Ryan Sessegnon, Bryan Gil, Emerson Royal, Rodrigo Bentancur, Pape Matar Sarr and Matt Doherty.
The combined price tag for this group of ten has been reported to be £274.63million and it’s hard to make the case for any of these players, other than new signings, living up to their fees.
Conte also publicly criticized the club’s approach to the January transfer window in an interview with Sky Italia.
“What happened in January was not easy. Rather than strengthening the team, we weakened it on paper,” he said.
“Bentancur and Kulusevski are ideal prospects for Tottenham because Tottenham are looking for young players they can develop and grow, not ready players. That’s the problem.”
The 52-year-old’s preference for combative wingers means the position is of great importance to his teams and it is perhaps telling that although four of those on this list play in that position, none impressed under the Italian. Against Wolves, Sessegnon was substituted after just 28 minutes.
Conte led Inter to the Serie A title last season with Achraf Hakimi and Ivan Perisic as wingers and it’s clear he’s not happy with the current options available to him.
Central midfield has been another position where Spurs have struggled recently with the absence of some of their key men. They have won just once in eight league games without Oliver Skipp, and when he, Pierre-Emile Hojberg and Eric Dier started together they kept five clean sheets in five matches.
Conte has been criticized by some for sticking to a 3-4-3 formation which can lead to them being overrun in midfield and the Italian switched to a 4-2-3-1 after losing 2- 0 Saturday.
Conte’s managerial career has been defined by altering his tactics to suit his team’s strengths and it’s worth noting if he continues with four at the back to shore up the middle of the park.
Despite the misfortune and gloom, finishing in the top four is still a possibility. The north London club are five points behind fourth-placed West Ham with three games less.
However, they will need to improve their record against other sides in the top half, having suffered seven defeats in 11 games.
In the end, what Spurs fans and Conte himself may need most is patience.
Across the 52-year-old’s 12 Premier League games, the underlying numbers have been broadly positive despite their recent dip in form. Spurs have an expected 24.4 goals and allow just 12.2.
For context, Tottenham’s expected goal difference for the last two full seasons has been +5.0 and -6.0.
If their +12.2 figure under Conte was replicated over a full campaign, it would be comparable to the number from their successful 2017-18 season, +32.3. Over time, these numbers could start to show up in improved results.
After the tumult and lackluster recruitment of recent years, any incoming manager would need time to whittle down a bloated squad while adding players who can play and believe in the new system.
But as Conte and Spurs learn, in modern football, time can be the most precious commodity of all.
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FIRST PUBLICATION AT 3:35 PM, FEBRUARY 17, 2022