Should the defence be a priority, or a ball-playing midfielder? Graham Ruthven investigates Spurs most pressing issues.
Antonio Conte was always the manager Tottenham wanted. While they failed to lure the former Chelsea and Inter coach to North London in the summer, they succeeded in landing their man after the departure of Nuno Espirito Santo. What Conte has gained in the four months since he was first approached about the job is power.
While Conte won’t necessarily control transfer strategy with Fabio Paratici installed as director of football not so long ago, the Italian has surely received assurances that Spurs will enter the market in January for reinforcements. Tottenham are in the midst of a rebuild and some new building blocks will have to be sourced.
Conte’s teams tend to be based on a sound defensive focus so this could be where Spurs turn their immediate focus. Milan Skriniar has been previously linked with a move to North London and would give Tottenham a physical presence at the back they currently lack. Stefan de Vrij, who also worked with Conte at Inter, would also strengthen Spurs.
Tottenham appear well-equipped in the wing-back areas that are so important to Conte’s 3-5-2 shape with Sergio Reguilon and Emerson Royal suited to the role. And in Son Heung-min and Harry Kane, Conte already has an attacking duo that can replicate the Romelu Lukaku-Lautaro Martinez partnership that fired Inter to the Italian title last season.
✍️Tottenham Hotspur remain interested in completing the signing of Inter Milan central defender Milan Škriniar ahead of the upcoming window.
🇮🇹Spurs head coach Antonio Conte has instructed Fabio Paratici to sign Škriniar.
— Last Word On Spurs 🇮🇹 (@LastWordOnSpurs) November 9, 2021
However, the North London club could do with better technicians in the centre of the pitch to control possession and matches in general. At Inter, Conte’s team had perfect midfield balance. They had Marcelo Brozovic to anchor things and Nicolo Barella to provide energy and drive as a modern box-to-box operator.
Spurs have Pierre-Emile Hjobjerg, Oliver Skipp and Harry Winks to at least provide some midfield structure, but they don’t have the sort of multi-dimensional number eight Conte needs to succeed. Tanguy Ndombele could be a useful link between the midfield and attack, but the Frenchman’s positional awareness isn’t always the sharpest.
If Barella himself can’t be lured to the Premier League, Franck Kessie would be a good option with the Ivorian into the last seven months of his AC Milan contract. The Rossoneri would surely listen to offers for one of their best players in January rather than risk losing him for free at the end of the season.
Tabloid speculation has linked Dusan Vlahovic with Tottenham, with Conte believed to be an admirer of the Fiorentina forward, but the Serbian would surely only be signed in January as a replacement for Kane. Spurs have greater needs in defence and midfield where Conte is missing the raw materials to build a winning team.
“Today I saw the heart of my players, the passion, the will to fight, the will to sacrifice, to understand this was a very difficult moment for us,” Conte said after Tottenham’s goalless draw with Everton in his first match as manager. “And to see this makes me more confident for the future.”
“Sometimes you can teach players the tactical aspect and physical aspect, but the heart and passion you either have or not – my players showed me they are in a good position, this is a good point to start.”
It was unsurprising Conte chose to highlight the mentality of his new players given how important it is that he wins hearts and minds at his new club, but it also hinted at an insecurity over the group he has inherited. The Italian clearly knows he requires more in his Tottenham Hotspur squad to achieve anything meaningful and it’s now up to the club to give him what he needs.