The Antonio Conte era at Spurs has been something of a roller coaster so far.
Sometimes the performances and results have been good and this is something that Tottenham fans are used to, as you can find in this Thai profile article of the team. On those good occasions, there has been a lot of excitement regarding the impact being made by Conte. Players who had been previously written off, now seemed to have a purpose and a future. The Italian’s will to win had seemed to have rubbed off on the squad.
Yet there have also been performances, which have sent Spurs fans into despair. The areas of the squad where there is not enough quality, have been plain to see. Tottenham’s players have not looked good enough to execute Conte’s plans.
Such contrasting performances are not particularly surprising. Conte is a good enough coach that he was always likely to make an immediate impact. He has a clear way that he wants to play and has employed a formation that suits Tottenham’s available centre-backs.
However, overall there is not enough quality in the squad to consistently deliver, hence the frequent poor performances. The right wing-back options are clearly not good enough and central midfield has been an area of concern.
One area in which Conte has been criticized of late, is for his choice of formation. Spurs have looked better and more secure in midfield when he’s picked a 3-5-2, but Conte keeps going back to 3-4-3.
That could be put down in part to a lack of options since the transfer window ended. Though Spurs bought Rodrigo Bentancur, they lost Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and Dele Alli, while Oliver Skipp was injured. Playing 3-5-2 is not easy when you only have three senior central midfielders available.
Yet there is a sense that Conte ultimately wants to play 3-4-3 and his experiments with 3-5-2 have been a compromise. He has employed a 3-5-2 formation when at Juventus, Italy and Inter, but his success in the Premier League with Chelsea came with a 3-4-3 that could morph into a 3-4-2-1.
Even if this is what Conte is keen to eventually replicate, it seems paradoxical to continue with a formation that just isn’t working right now. A place in next season’s Champions League is at stake, so why doesn’t Conte just stick with 3-5-2 for now and switch to a 3-4-3 next season, if that is what he prefers?
It’s somewhat reminiscent of Pep Guardiola’s first season at Manchester City. The players at Guardiola’s disposal could not effectively implement Guardiola’s plan, particularly when it came to his mantra of always playing out from the back. Guardiola nevertheless persevered and his methods paid off the following season.
Perhaps this is where Conte is at. Trying to get results, but also determined to drum into these players the way that he wants them to perform. Conte went out of his way to praise Bentancur and Harry Winks for their performance in central midfield after the home defeat against Wolves at the weekend, which suggests that he feels that the real problem may lie elsewhere.
Tottenham are eighth in the table, but still have the games in hand to move up to fourth. If that potential is to be fulfilled, then Conte must quickly find a balance between his plans for the future and the realities of the here and now.