Sam Tighe analyses the threat posed by Antonio Conte's rejuvenated Tottenham side, and how Southampton can keep out Spurs' key men. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
No doubt about it, Antonio Conte has overseen a significant, immediate uptick at Tottenham Hotspur since his appointment as manager last month.
After two years of drifting following the exit of Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs struggled to nail down their own identity, their own style, as two different coaches failed to pick up from where the Argentine left off.
But under Conte they’ve found their rhythm fast; his ideals are set in stone, his standards are sky-high, and Tottenham entered the festive period unbeaten in the league under his stewardship.
Some of the wins (2-0 vs Brentford, 3-0 vs Norwich City) have been very convincing, while the attacking performance levels in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool were excellent. Conte tweaked his formation for that game, switching from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2, which now adds a level of unpredictability to his approach moving forward.
A front two, supported by a midfield three, appears to bring the best out of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son’s chemistry. When both operate centrally and exchange passes, it’s tough to get a handle on either – let alone both. That chemistry was on display against Liverpool, with Kane breaking his scoring duck and fashioning a few chances for his supporting cast. Son’s speed in behind is a danger Southampton are well aware of too.
They can also form two thirds of a front three, with Steven Bergwijn or Lucas Moura joining them from the flank. The knock-on effect is they’re a man lighter in midfield, but retain better width high up the pitch, so it’s not all on the wing-backs to stretch the pitch and get up the line.
Whatever alignment Conte chooses, expect some familiar patterns of play to emerge: first, a longer ball into Kane’s feet, who bounces it back to an onrushing midfielder from deep quickly; that midfielder can carry into space or try to feed an attacking run immediately if it’s on.
Preventing Kane receiving the ball to feet cleanly is key, and he’ll likely naturally favour Mohammed Salisu’s area of the pitch. Getting tight to jockey him and knock him off balance is important – but beware the first-time, round-the-corner pass to set Son free in behind.
Second, Spurs’ more gradual build-up tends to end with the ball at the wing-back’s feet in a crossing position. The left flank carries the greater threat in this area, making Tino Livramento’s role particularly important.
There’s potential success for Saints in trying to block Tottenham’s build-up play from deep; Eric Dier and Davinson Sánchez have struggled to find the right angles to deliver accurate longer passes forward, leading to some turnovers. Building periods of pressure is possible – Saints just need to cap them by taking the chances that arise.