Conte celebrates Tottenham's win over Leeds
Conte celebrates Tottenham's win over Leeds

Tottenham 2-1 Leeds: Conte shows why he is elite


Tottenham Hotspur have problems. Even after the appointment of Antonio Conte, one of the most accomplished managers working in Europe right now, this hasn’t changed.

However, Sunday’s comeback victory over Leeds United proved how the Italian might have the solutions to those problems that Nuno Espirito Santo was unable to produce.

The issues Conte has experienced in his first two Premier League matches as Tottenham boss are very similar to those that ultimately spelled the end for Nuno at the club.

Spurs are still a creatively deficient team, most notably through the centre of the pitch where they badly struggled for spells on Sunday.

Midfield issues need resolving

At Inter Milan, the midfield was the engine that drove Conte’s team to the Serie A title last season.

As a unit, they were capable of controlling games in and out of possession, but Tottenham, at this moment in time, can do neither.

This is affecting all areas of Spurs’ play and underlines just how much work Conte has ahead of him.

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This match saw Tottenham go six consecutive halves of Premier league football without a shot on target.

With Pierre-Emile Hjojberg and Harry Winks positioned so close to the defence, Eric Dier took on a role, whether it was intentional or not, as something of a quarterback playing balls over the top or into the front three.

While Spurs boast one of the most potent attacking lines around, the chasm between the midfield and the forwards stopped them from applying any pressure on the Leeds United defence.

This was a problem Nuno struggled to solve and it’s something Conte already appears to be grappling with.

Conte's in-game changes make him elite

Unlike Nuno, though, Conte might have the answers to the questions being asked of Tottenham this season.

There was evidence of this in the second half performance which saw the home side net an equaliser through Hjobjerg and a winner through Sergio Reguilon who was quickest on the scene to convert a rebound from a Dier freekick.

In the absence of a central playmaker, Conte asked Harry Kane (who registered four shots in the second half) and Lucas Moura (who created three chances in the second half) to drop into central positions to compensate.

Kane v Leeds

This, coupled with the pushing up of the midfield line by 10 yards or so, gave Tottenham a much-needed platform in the centre of the pitch.

Kalvin Phillips, who had controlled so much of the opening 45 minutes, was overwhelmed.

Another feature of the second half was the mobility of the wide centre backs, given the freedom to get forward in Conte’s system.

Defence adaptation sees Spurs gain territory

While Ben Davies looked unsure of the distance he could travel in the first period, the Welshman was utilised as an outlet more than once after half time. This did a good job of unsettling the Leeds defence.

Emerson Royal made a number of runs down the right in the first half, but wasn’t picked out by his teammates. However, this changed in the second period as Spurs looked to the Brazilian as a way to add another player to the attack.

Emerson might not have the final ball of Achraf Hakimi, who was so influential as Inter’s right wing back under Conte, but he has the physical attributes to make Tottenham’s new system work.

The first half saw Spurs register an xG total of just 0.10. The second half, however, was clocked at 2.34.

While Tottenham managed just five touches in the Leeds penalty in the first half, they made 18 in the second period.

They also out-ran Leeds by 3.7km after half time compared to just 0.5km before. Thomas Tuchel has demonstrated the value of being a touchline game-changer for Chelsea and Tottenham now have a similar figure in Conte.

It was almost as if Conte was working out solutions to problems in real-time in the win over Leeds United.

From Emerson and Reguilon’s influence (Reguilon finished with a higher xG (0.57) than any other Spurs player) to Hjojberg’s more advanced position and a higher block led from the front, the former Chelsea, Inter and Juventus boss now has a greater idea of what he has within his ranks than he did before kick off.

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Food for thought for Man Utd?

One wonders what Ed Woodward and the decision makers at Manchester United thought of Tottenham’s comeback against Leeds given the sliding doors moment that took place at Old Trafford only a few weeks ago.

In an alternative universe where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked after October’s 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool, Conte might have got his feet under the desk as United’s new manager by now. Instead, he’s at Spurs.

Conte may not have been the perfect fit for Manchester United, both tactically and in terms of his managerial profile, but Tottenham are already benefiting from having the ambition to target a world class coach.

Is there the same ambition at Old Trafford to make the right appointment following Solskjaer's dismissal?

Spurs will need to better what they produced against Leeds. The signs of improvement must grow greater.

However, Conte at least seems to have a firm grasp on what issues he must resolve.

A title challenge will be well beyond Tottenham this season, they might even struggle to make the top four, but with Conte in charge their new direction will surely carry them forward.

Not every Premier League club can say that at the moment.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following Manchester United's 4-1 defeat to Watford
ALSO READ: Writing was on the wall for Solskjaer

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