MATT BARLOW: Tottenham under Antonio Conte and now back to where they were before the Italian

When Tottenham joined Etihad last season, they did so after losing three in a row in the league. They were down in eighth place by 36 points from 22 games, Antonio Conte grumbling about transfers and storm clouds gathering.

And they won – an unlikely victory over Manchester City that revived a battered season and inspired Conte and his team to a sprint finish that ended in fourth place and a return to the Champions League, a semblance of achievement and cause for optimism .

Eleven months later, after Sunday’s derby when they were torn apart on the home turf by Arsenal, their hated neighbors and runaway league leaders, they’re back in town in a desolate mood.

Tottenham is going in circles as a club – Antonio Conte's days seem numbered

Tottenham is going in circles as a club – Antonio Conte’s days seem numbered

“Bad result, bad first half,” Spurs winger Dejan Kulusevski said of a fourth defeat in five Premier League home games. “They scored a lucky goal and after that we didn’t play well enough. We couldn’t touch her. They’re a really good side, luckily they’re not at the top of the league, so it was hard for us to keep the ball, to press them.

“The second half was much better. We couldn’t score, that’s the bad thing, but we created a lot of chances.”

Hugo Lloris shouldered the blame after his own goal. At 36, there are legitimate questions about his form and future, but Lloris isn’t the only one to underperform. Eric Dier’s resurgence was reversed. Son Heung-min has only scored four goals in the league. Kulusevski has started just nine games in all competitions and Rodrigo Bentancur’s absence since the World Cup has been felt.

Exactly 11 months after last season's shock win at Manchester City, they travel there again, seemingly with faint hopes of victory

Exactly 11 months after last season’s shock win at Manchester City, they travel there again, seemingly with faint hopes of victory

A last-minute win there last season kickstarted a remarkable run that saw them finish in the top four

A last-minute win there last season kickstarted a remarkable run that saw them finish in the top four

Richarlison returned from Qatar with another injury. Cristian Romero missed the last five games before the World Cup but played in all seven for Argentina in Qatar and has been poor for Tottenham ever since.

Manager Conte could feel international football has conspired against him in this congested season. Others might say the same. Chelsea and Liverpool are both plagued by injuries. All four Champions League teams fail, even Manchester City with their usual high standards.

Those who purr endured less physical and mental stress. Manchester United and Arsenal have the complications of Thursday nights in Europe, but Europa League football doesn’t have the same quality or intensity as the Champions League. They can rest players and even drop points without criticism so there are excuses but Tottenham’s faithful are fed up with excuses. Hence the groan at the final whistle on Sunday.

Unlike City, Chelsea and Liverpool, they haven’t seen a trophy in 15 years, nor have they seen any sign of progress in the last five. Even when they reached the Champions League final, they did so with the aura of a team that has just passed its prime.

Arsenal's performance in the North London Derby at the weekend proved the gap in the class

Arsenal’s performance in the North London Derby at the weekend proved the gap in the class

Tottenham then tried to take a shortcut with victorious managers like Jose Mourinho and Conte, both of whom know what it takes, both of whom wasted no time in making it clear they couldn’t compete with the squad at the top of the league and buying power to disposal.

The idea of ​​a manager with a Midas touch is a fallacy. Yes, they can make a difference, but the players remain the key. In addition, good players have a broader vision through recruitment and academy development, and are shared by the man who chooses the team.

The Spurs were a long way from the talks when Erling Haaland, Cody Gakpo or Mykhailo Mudryk discussed a change of club. Liverpool hijacked their deal for Luis Diaz and Arsenal withheld their interest in Gabriel Jesus.

Chairman Daniel Levy has invested in trying to meet Conte’s demands in the transfer market but ultimately finds his head coach at odds with his recruiting power.

Spurs can outbid Nottingham Forest for Djed Spence but Conte wants mature, reliable, ready players to quell his ambition to fight for the biggest prizes, not more prospects when he has Ryan Sessegnon, Bryan Gil and Pape Sarr.

Djed Spence summarizes the strategic difference between Conte and the club hierarchy

Djed Spence summarizes the strategic difference between Conte and the club hierarchy

He made this clear. Still, they spent £20m on Spence and he didn’t play. A right-back is high on the shopping list this month. However, Spurs like Sporting Lisbon’s Pedro Porro are reluctant to meet the £40million release clause.

If it feels like they’re going in circles, it’s probably because they are. Only this time with Arsenal rising as a club with their joint action and Kane’s contract entering his final year.

Mourinho and Conte were dates to placate Kane and convince him Tottenham are serious about winning, but they haven’t got any closer to winning than they were. Conte is by no means certain of staying beyond the end of his contract in June.

In fact, there are suddenly doubts as to whether Levy wants to keep him or if supporters are against it.

Since his failed escape attempt in the summer of 2021, Kane has worn the steely gaze of a man careful to bid his time, heed his advice and determined not to forget what he saw as a broken promise to let him go if City cares was.

The club now risk losing Harry Kane this summer with no sign he will compete

The club are now risking losing Harry Kane this summer with no sign he will start

Unless Spurs want him to leave on a free transfer at the end of his contract in 2024, they will have to consider selling their biggest asset this summer. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have been linked and Manchester United’s stopgap for Wout Weghorst reinforces the theory they want to test Levy’s resolve in the summer.

Kane will be 30 in July. By then he will be Tottenham’s top scorer and nothing can stop him in north London.

Of course, things could be back to normal with another unexpected win at Manchester City on Thursday. Conte’s side could easily get back together if everyone is fit, finds their rhythm, sneaks up fourth and returns to the Champions League.

It doesn’t look likely, but it’s possible. You did it last year. You can do it again.

Hell, they might even win the FA Cup, but why would Kane want to extend his stay when they’re stuck in this infinite loop? And where will they be without him?

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-11641965/MATT-BARLOW-Tottenham-Antonio-Conte-Italian.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 MATT BARLOW: Tottenham under Antonio Conte and now back to where they were before the Italian

Maureen Mackey

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