Finally, this feels like a new era for Spurs
From Jose Mourinho to Ryan Mason to Nuno Espirito Santo, none of them could address the issues that started surfacing in the final year of the Pochettino era.
Mourinho tried to solve it by parking the bus, to some success, before it all fell apart. Mason brought a bit of life back to the team, but it was clear that he was not yet the manager Spurs needed to take them back to top four contention. Santo? The less said the better.
Much was expected, however, of Antonio Conte, who always makes his mark no matter the state of the team he took over. We saw glimpses of the Conte effect in his first game in charge against Vitesse in the European Conference League, though it quickly faded as the Dutch side fought their way back into the game. The away game to Everton showed that he got the players to fight much harder than they ever did under Santo, but it perhaps came too soon for Conte.
WATCH: Pitchside footage of Conte in Spurs' goalless draw with Everton
So an international break later, we returned to Conte’s first league game in charge at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and a potential banana skin in Leeds, a team whose league position doesn’t really reflect the quality of a Marcelo Bielsa side.
And for the first 45 minutes, it was worrying that even a manager with Conte’s CV could not lift a bunch of unmotivated players, as Spurs players backed off Leeds and allowed the visitors to control proceedings, which resulted in Daniel James poking home a cross late in the half to no one’s surprise.
It was hardly the performance any Spurs fan expected after three weeks in charge, albeit during a period where Conte didn’t have many of his first team players around due to the internationals.
Unlike Mourinho, however, Conte didn’t blame his players. He admitted in a post match conference that he got his tactics wrong, and Leeds won the first half tactically. So, he did what all good managers do, and sent his team out in the second half pressing the Leeds team high up the pitch to create their own luck. Which they did, as both Spurs’ goals enjoyed deflections that went their way to the most unlikely of scorers in Pierre Emile Hojbjerg...
...and Sergio Reguilon.
It was hardly a vintage Spurs performance, the lack of creativity was once again telling as Spurs set the record for being the first team since the EPL that could not register a shot on target for eight consecutive halves. And even as they set that right in the second half, you could still see that the team struggled with creativity, so much so that one could imagine that both Tanguy Ndombele and Bryan Gil were sending psychic messages for Conte to send them on - which he didn’t.
Instead, Conte found another way to win, by harassing Leeds in their own third and not giving them time to string passes together until they made mistakes. It worked like a charm and it took some desperate defending for Leeds to even stay in the game, right from the start of the second half.
WATCH: Conte discusses 'difficult' win over Leeds
There was no doubt that Conte’s half time teamtalk had the desired effect, and while that second half performance was still very far from an accomplished Conte team, it’s very clear that he’s forging them to play the way he wants them to.
For those who didn’t make it to the field, like Ndombele, Gil, Joe Rodon, Matt Doherty and Steven Bergwijn, it was a very clear sign of what they need to do to impress the new boss, which is to run their lungs out and force the opponent to rush their passes.
Yes, it’s only one game and it’s too soon to say if Conte can bring this out of them week in, week out. After all, we had several false dawns before - Mourinho led the table this time last year, and Santo did the same after three games at the start of the season.
But there’s just something different about this.
It was a weekend where all of Spurs’ top four rivals, from West Ham to Manchester United to Arsenal to Brighton, all lost. Results were extremely favourable to keep Spurs in the race to fourth (top three is settled, by the way, in case anyone still harbours title ambitions).
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This was the kind of match that Spurs fans have grown accustomed to not winning, simply because it was expected Spurs would win, as Leeds were coming off a terrible run of form.
It was poised for Spurs to bottle it, for pundits to get their knives out and say how soft Spurs are, even with Conte at the helm.
And yet, they scrapped it, and never looked like losing it once they went ahead, not something you could say about the team over the past few seasons.
That second half performance showed that Conte might just be the manager to make us forget about Pochettino, that he indeed can find a way for average players to punch above their weight, because, let’s face it, Spurs really do have a bunch of average players when compared to the top three.
And now, there is genuine hope for the season again, which just three weeks ago, after a listless performance against an equally poor Red Devils, had seemed as unlikely as someone receiving a decree that you would go to Hell actually surviving (those of you who don’t get this reference, watch Hellbound on Netflix, which, if it doesn’t beat Squid Game to be Netflix’s best watched show of all time, means humans have no taste).
Spurs’ next five league matches are against Burnley, Brentford, Norwich, Brighton and Leicester, and you’d like to think that if Conte can get the team to fight like they did in the second half, that’s 15 points they should get, which would nicely set Spurs up for a mouth-watering clash against Liverpool at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium after that.
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Those will be 15 tough points, but they present the real test for Conte’s new era, rather than the match against Liverpool, which you would think is still coming too soon for him given the gulf between both teams’ quality. If he can win the next five, however, then it will surely be Conte’s Spurs that did it.