It’s scary how quickly the mood can change at Tottenham. Their rollercoaster of a season has taken another nosedive after being dumped out of the Carabao Cup semi-finals by Chelsea – how fans would like to get off this ride now.
The arrival of Antonio Conte was greeted like a god, coming to save a club that was decaying from the inside – starved of identity, proper investment and direction. Punters were right to think this was a man who could lift Spurs out of the mire and forge a team of winners. They were wrong to think he could do it this quickly.
Conte has called for patience as he attempts to get his ideas across, change the attitude at the club and experiment with a stale squad he interhited, but that patience looks to be fading already after just two months in charge.
Antonio Conte’s mood has turned sour after Tottenham were dumped out of the Carabao Cup
The scale of the Italian’s task has been laid bare with his thin squad barely scraping results
The cheerful Italian, who laughed and clapped as fans started chants about him a few games into his reign, has been given a stark reminder about the scale of his task. His team are much better drilled than during the ill-fated tenure of Nuno Espirito Santo, but his selection against the Blues showed just how far away the club are from matching their quality.
Playing the out of favour Matt Doherty at left wing-back, the underwhelming Giovani Lo Celso supporting Harry Kane and Lucas Moura in attack – while Japhet Tanganga continues to play in defence despite a handful of clangers. His options are limited when talented yet disappointing stars like Tanguy Ndombele and Dele Alli fail to produce against League One Morecambe.
Chelsea handled Spurs across both legs – they didn’t even need to get out of third gear to dismantle them. No – the north Londoners did that to themselves. In the first leg, gifting possession for Kai Havertz’s opener, then scoring a comical own goal and struggling to create any chances of note. In the second, Pierluigi Gollini’s Superman impression saw him miss the ball at a corner to seal Chelsea’s place in the final.
His Spurs side barely laid a glove on Chelsea across either leg of their cup semi-final tie
It just never looked like Tottenham’s night – as two penalties and a goal were chalked off by VAR. Nothing came together, there was no control. By the end of it, Conte looked fed up and cut a particularly moody figure in his post match press conference.
When asked about the true gap in class between Tottenham and Chelsea – having already admitted his side are nowhere near them last week – Conte, replied: ‘I repeat, I’m talking too much because I have to talk with the media.
‘To repeat on the same topic, the same questions, honestly I am a little bit bored, a bit annoyed. That’s it.’
And you can hardly blame him for losing his temper. Most of the narrative around Conte’s arrival at Tottenham has been regarding supposed promises and assurances in the transfer market, and the questions about whether or not he will be backed in the January window seem never ending.
Conte has grown irritable over a lack of signings, underperforming players and inconsistency
Certainly, there is a feeling that if Daniel Levy doesn’t get his wallet out and add at least two players this month, there will be uproar from the stands – and the Italian won’t be pleased either. He he stressed signings alone won’t fix Tottenham’s problems. True, but they won’t hurt either and he knows this methods can’t be fully implemented until he has the players he wants.
He sent out the warning this week that he must be backed after holding a crunch summit with Levy and director of football Fabio Paratici, making clear his feelings of what the team needs. Now it’s over to the powers at be to deliver.
Fans are already fearing their manager could walk if he doesn’t get what he wants in this window – their relationship with Conte resembling an insecure man dating a woman out of his league, worried she has eyes elsewhere. If Levy doesn’t make serious moves to transform the landscape of the playing staff, that nightmare could very well become a reality.
But make no mistake, things have changed at Tottenham. Conte has created an atmosphere at the club not seen since Mauricio Pochettino was in charge. He’s done that by instilling a recognisable style of play, organising the defence and bringing discipline. But there are still glaring problems that have emerged during a sticky spell in the last five games.
There is massive pressure on chairman Daniel Levy to deliver new players for Conte this month
Conte made his feelings clear in a transfer summit with Levy and director Fabio Paratici (L)
After a confident 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, they struggled to break down a 10-man Southampton team and laboured to a draw – then took until the last minte of stoppage time to beat a Watford team that hadn’t kept a clean sheet all season.
The less we talk about their performance against League One Morecambe, the better. Having to come from behind, scoring their first goal on 77 minutes and needing to bring on Harry Kane and Lucas Moura to win the game, was not a good look at all.
So two dreadful legs against Chelsea were two mouldy slices of bread sandwiching rotten meat. There has been a notable drop off in recent games – but what is the reason for it?
It’s strange to think Conte is still unbeaten in the Premier League, and his first eight games helped bring the good feeling back to the club after Espirito Santo had brought fans to despair – winning five, drawing two and losing once.
The Italian’s squad is stale and he doesn’t have the personnel to fully implement his ideas
Tottenham’s form has stuttered over the last five games, struggling to break teams down and looking shoddy at the back
They had been averaging two goals a game during that run, compared to just one per game in the last five. Curiously, Conte’s team are producing more shots per game (17.6) than the start of his reign (12.6), are playing more passes into the final third (36.4 versus 26.4) and have more touches in the opposition’s box (30.8 compared to 22.2).
But their shot conversion rate has tanked – previously standing at 15.9 per cent and now dropping to 5.7 per cent, and they are conceding more goals per game, in stats revealed by Opta.
After signs he had revitalised the fortunes of his star man Kane, the England captain is still blowing hot and cold and is yet to find the scintillating form he enjoyed last season, cutting a frustrated figure whenver things aren’t going the team’s way.
Harry Kane is still intent on leaving the club despite the arrival of a world class coach in Conte
Sportsmail revealed last night that the 28-year-old is still determined to leave the club, and that the arrival of Conte has done nothing to change his mind. With two and a half years left on his contract, time is running out for Spurs to rake in a big sum for the forward, and he will know that.
Hiring one of the world’s best coaches was the best move Levy could have played to convince Kane his future lies in north London, but that was the promise he was fed when Jose Mourinho came in – and look how that turned out.
So Conte has a player who is not at 100 per cent mentally and who is battling for confidence. Like his manager, he won’t have been pleased at seeing Spurs go out of yet another cup competition, with the FA Cup the only chance of silverware now.
The former Inter boss needs ready-made players to deliver for him – he is being set up to fail until he is backed in the market
Tottenham don’t have too many players who have the calibre of Kane or Son Heung-min, and they need more to take away the burden, and the feeling that the club’s chances of success lie solely with them.
Jamie Redknapp told after the Chelsea defeat how Spurs should be targeting high profile players like Chelsea did with Romelu Lukaku, saying Conte has a history of signing ready-made stars who can deliver what he wants. Only then can he truly push on and set the wheels in motion.
And the weight of pressure on Conte to deliver that seems enormous. It was too much even for a coach with the pedigree of Jose Mourinho and it finished him off. There are extraodinarily high expectations on his shoulders yet the quality of his current squad means he is being set up to fail.
Spurs are having a blip – all teams have them – but there are other factors at play that can’t be smoothed over by good coaching. If the club want to be a success under Conte, there is only one pathway. They must evolve.