Dare Spurs fans hope again? Yes, we Conte!
Since then, Spurs have been on a rollercoaster ride - we lost the next match against Burnley, then thrashed Leeds, then got knocked out of the FA Cup against Middlesbrough, then came back to thump Everton. Immediately after that, we lost to Cristiano Ronaldo (yes, it wasn’t Manchester United who beat Spurs, it was the GOAT who single-handedly did it).
WATCH: Conte in awe of matchwinning Ronaldo
That prompted intense media speculation about the future of everyone at Spurs, from Harry Kane wanting - yet again - to move to a trophy-laden side, to Antonio Conte walking out on Spurs, as well as the mascot, the tea lady and the corner flags all wanting greener pastures.
It felt like Football Siao was the only media that didn’t speculate on anyone’s future. Though we could have done so with the clickbait, I was patiently waiting for the day that I could see Conte leading Spurs away from the terrifying curse, before penning another article about them.
I was tempted to do so the day after that Ronaldo defeat, because we saw a Spurs side that played with composure, tactical nous and a passion to play for the badge, but simply suffered at the hands of the greatest player in football history wanting to prove to his manager what a mistake it was to leave him out of the Manchester derby in the previous match.
Since then, Spurs have gone on a rampage, thumping Brighton, fellow top-four challengers West Ham, and a rejuvenated Newcastle with consummate ease in succession, while United got knocked out of the Champions League and laboured to a draw at home against Leicester City, in a game that the visitors probably should have won.
Spurs leapt into fourth place with the three straight wins, though that might only last for 24 hours depending on whether Arsenal beat an in-form Crystal Palace, who have only lost once in their last 10 games in all competitions.
So why am I choosing to write now? Am I still high over the way Spurs had dismantled Newcastle last night? Is this premature ejaculation, a condition not uncommon with men my age? Or am I once again falling into the trap of the Tottenham Triangle, with recent displays raising my hopes only to see them dashed yet again in the weeks to come?
WATCH: Conte assesses Spurs' dominant win over Newcastle
I’m happy to say it’s none of the above. I’m not yet hopeful that Spurs can make the top four, because the Gunners still have two games in hand, we’re only three points ahead of United and West Ham, and let’s be honest, it will take results elsewhere going our way before we can really hope to get that coveted final Champions League spot. It’s not up to us, and for that reason alone, while I have belief, I don’t yet have hope about the final league position.
But there’s a different hope that Spurs fans can now have. I can safely say that regardless of whether Spurs do make it into the top four, Conte has improved the players and team to the point where it is a joy watching the team play again. While there have been moments since Mauricio Pochettino left that the team has been majestic, Spurs have never had a level of consistency in their play, even when they did get the results.
Since thumping Everton 5-0, however, Spurs have brandished a football style that its fans can be proud of, because they are playing like champions. Yes, even in that loss at Old Trafford, Spurs played like contenders.
This doesn’t mean Spurs won’t lose matches - not even Manchester City or Liverpool, easily the two best sides in Europe today, can guarantee that they won’t lose any more matches between now and the end of the season.
But unlike the past three years where Spurs often laboured to narrow wins, we’re now seeing a side that creates plenty of chances week in, week out. 14 against Everton, 10 against United, 17 against a Brighton side that rarely gives much away, 17 against a fellow top-four contender in West Ham and last night, 19 against a Newcastle side that has recently been defensively resilient.
Those are statistics of a top, top side, and one finally befitting the attacking talents of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min. No longer are they winning games simply with low-block defending and blitzy counter-attacking, even though that’s still a potent weapon in their, erm, arsenal.
Just take the goals against the Toons - a set piece header by Ben Davies, nicely worked crosses for Matt Doherty and Emerson Royal, and yes, two counter-attacking goals from Son and Steven Bergwijn.
Against West Ham? A well-worked goal which resulted from a transition in the Hammers’ half, a Kane to Son combination worked out from the back and a long punt from Hugo Lloris off the head of Kane into Son’s off the ball run for an easy one-on-one. Brighton? One patiently worked goal from the edge of the box by new boy Dejan Kulusevski and one counter-attacking goal from Kane. In the loss against United, both of Spurs’ goals came from them trying to pry open a defence sitting deep, one resulting in a penalty and the other Harry Maguire turning in an own goal from a dangerous cross.
WATCH: Kane on his future at Spurs and relationship with Conte
For the longest time, the criticism of Spurs, even at their very best in the season where they finished second, was that they struggled to create chances against teams sitting deep and playing the low block.
Pundits and fans alike bemoaned the lack of a creative playmaker, but we all know that bemoaning is the default state of pundits and fans, who also bemoan the fact that City lack a natural goalscorer such as Kane - despite the fact that City have scored 70 league goals so far, the second highest in the league. Similarly, everyone said that Spurs were only good when Son and Kane played well, and at that point, that was probably true.
This is why fans and pundits aren’t coaches or football managers, no matter how many times they win the Quintuple on Football Manager.
Thankfully, Conte knew better. He knew that what he needed to do was to get Spurs’ wing backs to stretch the oppositions’ defence, and that passing in the opponents’ half had to be more precise. The two players he brought in the January window, Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentacur, gave Spurs just that - precision passing forward, and the duo seemed to have sparked better passing from their teammates as well.
More importantly, in the five league games starting from the thrashing of Everton, out of Spurs’ 17 goals scored, Kane and Son only scored four each. The wingbacks scored 3, the defensive centre-backs took 2, Steven Bergwijn contributed yet another from the bench and due to the incessant wing play, our opponents chipped in with 3 own goals.
Those statistics are the reason why Spurs fans should have hope, because it shows that Conte’s system is working, and the players are buying into it. Eight of the 17 goals came from defensive players, including the opponents’ defenders, and that shows the fundamental reason why Spurs are now creating so many chances per game, because attacking chances are no longer just reliant on the form of Kane and Son or an absent creative playmaker.
A clear sign of a top team is how dominant they are in games, even when they lose, but especially when they put together a winning run. This is what is currently happening with Spurs. Everton, West Ham, Newcastle and Brighton all had very few real chances in their respective matches, and what few chances they had, they had to be very clinical to be able to pierce a well-drilled Spurs defence.
The best part? Conte said repeatedly that even this is not good enough, and for sure the team has to continue to “improve”.
WATCH: The best of Conte on the Spurs touchline
I don’t know if Spurs will make the top four, but the foundation has been laid for the team for next season, and they way they are now playing, if they finish fourth next season, it would probably be a disappointment.
In my lifetime of supporting Spurs, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say that, short of the two seasons Spurs were chasing for the title, and admittedly in those seasons, big teams such as City and Liverpool were all falling short of the level they are at today.
With Conteball now being firmly established, and squad depth being actually better despite having less players since January, you sense that Spurs are an astute summer transfer window away from being a title contender next season.
It could very well be that I just ejaculated prematurely with this column, but given the football Spurs are now playing, I’d highly recommend adult diapers for all Spurs fans as we head towards the end of the season.