Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs' scrappy win at Watford shows Antonio Conte's squad still requires surgery

Craig Vickers
Spurs just about beat Watford
Spurs just about beat Watford / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages
facebooktwitterreddit

Nothing quite beats the visceral joy of a late winning goal as a football fan.

Try telling a Tottenham fan to curb their emotions amid a 95th minute winner - in the context of a top four race which is likely to go down to the wire - and you'll be laughed out of the conversation.

But when the dust settles on this Spurs victory at Vicarage Road it is likely to raise questions about the sustainability of Antonio Conte's style of play relative to the players at his disposal.

Davinson Sanchez, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Eric Dier, Emerson Royal
Tottenham celebrate after a late victory / Richard Heathcote/GettyImages

Indeed, when the Italian assumed the role after the wreckage of the Nuno Espirito Santo era the belief was that he was inheriting a squad tailored to the style of play which brought him success at Chelsea and, most recently, Inter in Serie A.

The shift to a back three would conceal the defensive deficiencies of several defenders, while there was grit and energy in the midfield department.

Most of all, there was pace and star-studded quality in the attacking positions. Tottenham ripped through Liverpool on the counter-attack when the sides met in a 2-2 draw last month, owing much to Conte maximising the qualities of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

However, recent games have began to raise concerns about the suitability of certain personnel to Conte's ideas of football and, were it not for the late Davinson Sanchez intervention this afternoon, the problem ought to have led to the concession of four points at a critical stage of the season.

The Italian has been left between a rock and a hard place in the profile of full backs which he has inherited. At Inter, he could rely upon the buccaneering runs of Achraf Hakimi at right wing-back. The reality is not quite the same in north London.

Emerson Royal endured an afternoon to forget from an attacking perspective. The former Barcelona man delivered 13 crosses, only four of which reached their intended target - and to say they were 'successful' would be lenient.

It spoke volumes about how Watford viewed the Brazilian's threat that they were content to leave him on the ball. The Hornets were happy to concede the diagonal switch from Ben Davies out to the right wing-back, safe in the knowledge that he doesn't boast the quality to trouble the Watford goal.

Similarly, the lack of a consistent creative presence in midfield once again reared its ugly head for Spurs. It was telling that, of the 21 shots Tottenham fashioned at goal, nearly half arrived from outside of the penalty area.

Perhaps Conte's substitutions told the story. As his side toiled, it took until the 70th minute for the Italian to turn to his bench, with the result being a like-for-like swap in midfield between Oliver Skipp and Harry Winks.

Bryan Gil and Giovani Lo Celso were introduced late on, but the moves from Conte felt like a message to the Tottenham board ahead of a crucial month of the January transfer window.

His side's ability to control the inherent madness of football means they begin 2022 unbeaten under their new boss. Results continue to arrive for Tottenham, but Conte requires January intervention to take his side onto the next level.

facebooktwitterreddit