The things Conte can do to help Spurs bridge the gap to PL's elite

Bring in defensive cover after Japhet Tanganga’s disasterclass, get Harry Kane firing and turn the team into ‘mentality monsters’ – how Antonio Conte can bridge the gap to England’s elite after his damning verdict of ‘middle team’ Tottenham

  • Spurs were soundly beaten by Chelsea in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg
  • The result left Antonio Conte to give a damning assessment of his Spurs side
  • The Italian damningly called Tottenham a ‘middle’ team after their 2-0 defeat
  • He also claimed the level has dropped a lot and buying players is not a magic fix
  • But what can he do to bridge the gap? Sportsmail assesses some key areas 

Antonio Conte delivered another brutal assessment of his Tottenham side after they were comfortably beaten by Chelsea in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final, leaving the Italian with it all to do if Spurs are to reach the Wembley showpiece.

Conte branded Spurs a ‘middle team’ and insisted the level of the squad had ‘dropped a lot’ in what is a damning verdict of a group of players he only inherited from Nuno Espirito Santo in November.

Spurs struggled to put up much of a fight against their fierce rivals – and Conte’s former employers – at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, leaving one of the club’s most realistic chances to win silverware this season hanging by a thread and the Italian despondent. 

Antonio Conte gave a brutually honest assessment of his Tottenham team on Wednesday

He said after the 2-0 defeat: ‘I know the situation, it is very clear in this moment there is an important gap. We have to try to fight to stay in the league in a good position, but if we think we are close, I think we are not in the right way.

‘It was a difficult game, difficult from the start, Chelsea showed to be much better than us. If you compare the two teams there is not a comparison. We are talking about a team ready to win – today we have seen the difference between the two teams. We are a team in the middle.

‘This game confirmed what I thought about the difference between the teams. In the last years the level of Tottenham has dropped a lot. There is a lot of work to do, in this moment, it is very difficult to understand which part you take to improve because there is a lot of situations to improve. We need so much time, and patience.

Conte described Tottenham as a ‘middle’ team following years of decline in north London 

‘We have to be humble, to understand the situation at the moment and continue to work to improve our players, then we will see. It is not simple to say go in the transfer market, in January it won’t be easy and now the most important thing is to be focused and work to improve.

‘I am always very honest with my players, we have to clap the performance of Chelsea. I like to tell the truth and with a good lie you don’t go anywhere. We have to try to change this situation, slowly, slowly.’

It is not the first time Conte has levelled criticism at his Spurs players and it will likely not be the last time, either.

So what does Conte need to do to bridge the gap to England’s top teams? Sportsmail analyses a few key areas and issues that desperately need addressing.

Conte needs time 

He’s stressed it before and he’ll likely stress it again – if he’s to achieve success at White Hart Lane, he need time – and plenty of it – to do so.

When Conte arrived at the beginning of November, he inherited a group of players devoid of hope, confidence and were in complete freefall following a short, but disastrous reign under Nuno.

It meant Conte had no pre-season with the players which he stresses it vitally important to get his ideas across while being able to implement a philosphy in the months building up to a season.

Conte called on supporters and club management to show patience as he rebuilds the team

The Italian needs time to implement his ideas and footballing phisophy on Spurs’ players

It’s a minor miracle that Conte has managed to go unbeaten in the Premier League with this group of players, if you take into consideration exactly where Spurs were when he took over.

Conte has also instilled a hard-working mentality into a group of players that would run 100km on average during a Premier League match under Nuno’s watch – now, they’re running 114km collectively.

And while Spurs face a huge uphill battle to overturn the semi-final, there is still a small chance of forcing extra-time in the return leg at home.

But thinking longer-term, Conte needs time to turn Spurs’ fortunes around – he’s only been in the job two months. 

Defensive cover after Tanganga disasterclass

While Japhet Tanganga has shown he can operate on the right side of a three-man backline, the same can not be said for when he plays on the left.

The Spurs academy graduate showed an alarming lack of experience against the reigning champions of Europe at Stamford Bridge, with both his mistakes leading to goals.

The blame can be laid at Tanganga’s feet for the result but that’s not to say he has no future at the club. Far from it. But the performance did show how light in depth Spurs are in defence – especially since they’re playing a three-man backline nowadays under Conte’s tutelage.

Japhet Tanganga’s (right) two mistakes led to both of Chelsea’s goals at Stamford Bridge

Eric Dier has become a reliable cornerstone in Conte’s defence and have won 62 per cent of their games in all competitions when the England international has featured. Compare that to their win ratio of 33 per cent when he hasn’t played.

With Cristian Romero still yet to return from a hamstring injury and Joe Rodon not yet looking like he features in Conte’s plans, Spurs are a bit light on the ground with real defensive options and a new tried and tested centre back in January could provide Conte with that stability. 

While Conte himself has said that bringing in players won’t magically solve Spurs’ problems, it wouldn’t hurt adding cover at the back either. 

Get Kane firing

Since Conte’s arrival, Harry Kane has slowly but surely started to find the back of net. Not at the rate of knots he or his manager will have hoped for but his barren spell in the Premier League came to an end.

But while Kane is starting to show glimpses of his former self, Conte will be desperate for the England skipper to rediscover the form that saw him finish as the Premier League’s top goalscorer and top assister.

If you take a look at any of Conte’s title-winning sides, you’ll will see a familiar pattern when it comes to those leading the line for him.

Harry Kane is starting to show glimpses of his former self but needs to start firing for Conte

Diego Costa played some of his best and most ruthless football under the Italian before Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku scored for fun while at Inter Milan.

Now Kane needs to join those aforementioned players and hit the heady heights if he is to finally win some silverware at his boyhood club.

As it stands, Kane is heading in the right direction and better service up top will allow him the opportunity to do what he does best – score goals.

But without his star man firing, Conte may need to look elsewhere during these dry patches in front of goal.

But the goal-burden needs to be shared

Which leads us onto the next area where Spurs need to improve – easing the goal-scoring burden on Kane’s shoulders.

When Kane isn’t scoring, Spurs really struggle to muster up goals from elsewhere. Son Heung-min has been the go-to guy for goals under Conte but the South Korean was unable to make any sort of impact against a weakened Chelsea backline.

With no real quality to bring off the bench in attack, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy must splash the cash and try to bring a proven goalscorer to the club.

Vlahovic could be the ideal partner to Kane up top and help ease the goalscoring burden 

Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic has been linked with Tottenham and could form a lethal partnership with Kane up top, solving a key area of weaknessnes that has long haunted Tottenham.

Again, while Conte insists that signing players will solve their issues, bringing in a talent as big as the Serbian will also be key for the future if Spurs are to bridge the gap to their Premier League rivals above them.

With time, resources and top coaching, Conte will be able to help Spurs establish a foundation to see them challenge on all fronts and make them worthy top-four contenders once again.  

Make Spurs ‘mentality monsters’

But if Spurs are to become top-four contenders season-in season-out, Conte will have to replicate what Jurgen Klopp has achieved in his time as Liverpool boss.

After conquering Europe and finally winning their first Premier League title in 2020 having amassed nearly 100 points in back-to-back seasons, Klopp branded his Reds players ‘mentality monsters’ given their ruthless and consistent ability to grind out results no matter the circumstances.

Since arriving in north London, Conte has claimed Spurs have had to ‘fight to win’ every game meaning they’ve still got some way to go until they can comfortably control and see out games like Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea can.

The sort of mentality that Klopp has instilled at Anfield will come with time, which Conte has begged supporters and club management for.

Tottenham’s players need to establish a winning menality if they are to catch England’s elite

With a project such as this, Spurs can reap the benefits in the long run if they back Conte. Even if the immediate future doesn’t produce silverware straight away, it would be foolish to look at Wednesday’s result at Stamford Bridge as a huge setback.

While those are the games Spurs must win in order to join the elite and shake the ‘middle team’ tag given to them by their own boss, their reaction to the defeat is just as important.

Should they somehow turn the semi-final around and beat either Liverpool or Arsenal in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley, then the pressure of finally winning silverware will have evaporated and Spurs can then set their sights on bigger and better goals.

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