Monday, November 29, 2021

Tottenham appoint Conte: Opta numbers outline what Spurs fans can expect from the Italian

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 2 Nov 2021

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Tottenham moved quickly after sacking Nuno Espirito Santo on Monday, appointing Antonio Conte as his successor just a day later.

The swift changeover is a huge departure from the shambles Spurs found themselves embroiled in during pre-season when initially hiring Nuno, who was apparently way down their list of candidates to replace Jose Mourinho.

Conte was said to have been Spurs’ ideal choice back then but was reluctant to jump straight back into a job after leaving Inter. But now he does find himself in charge at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and he’s got plenty of work on his hands.

While their 15 points from 10 Premier League matches is by no means a disaster as they sit ninth in the table, the major concerns relating to Spurs have been the style of play and Harry Kane’s form.

With this in mind, Stats Perform delves into the Opta numbers to see what Spurs fans can expect from the Italian.

Undoubted pedigree

It really is a sign of the times – and the Premier League’s financial might – that Tottenham are able to sack a coach they never really wanted and bring in the bloke who won Serie A just last season.

Granted, Inter winning the Scudetto was hardly a fairytale story, and they spent a fair amount of money to build the team that got the job done, but you can’t deny the fine job Conte did in two years there.

His first season saw them narrowly miss out to Juve by a single point, while they also got to the Europa League final only to lose to Sevilla – that was hardly a disgrace given the Spaniards have never lost a Europa League/UEFA Cup final.

It was clear to see Inter were building to something and in 2020-21 they got their first Serie A title in 11 years, ending the Juve domination that stretched back to 2010-11 and coincidentally began with Conte as coach.

Of course, it could be argued that Conte’s return to Italian football was timed perfectly, with Juve slipping as a force and Serie A waiting for another team to take over, but there’s no getting away from the fact Inter were dominant for a massive part of the season – they were top from matchday 22 all the way through to the end of the season.

After a 2-1 loss at Sampdoria on January 6, Inter did not lose again before sealing the title, with the 3-2 defeat away to Juve on the penultimate day of the season having no impact on the Nerazzurri’s end position.

Conte turned Inter from perennial underachievers to champions, and while money was spent, so many of those brought in improved significantly under his guidance as well.

The system

Conte’s tactical tendencies are well-publicised. In fact, there aren’t many coaches in world football who are more associated with a specific system than he is with his.

During his last spell in the Premier League, which included one title success, his Chelsea lined up with a back three in all but six of his 78 top-flight matches.

In the long run, Spurs fans can expect such a set-up to lead to greater pressing intensity. While Inter’s 294 high turnovers may have only been enough to rank sixth in Serie A (and it would have been the same in the Premier League) last term, that total was still far more than Tottenham (228), the third-lowest in the English top flight.

Among the two sides with even fewer high turnovers than Spurs were Nuno’s Wolves (205).

Inter’s 12.8 PPDA (opposition passes allowed per defensive action) for 2020-21 was roughly average across Serie A and the Premier League, suggesting Inter didn’t necessarily do their most aggressive pressing from the front.

Additionally, it could be argued that Spurs actually have a group of players well-suited to making the most of an intense press. Of course, the Nerazzurri’s high turnovers total was much greater, but when it comes to efficiency, Spurs were slightly better in 2020-21.

Spurs’ shot-ending high turnovers accounted for 16.2 per cent of their total, while that figure was 15 per cent for Inter. They both scored five goals from such situations.

Granted, this doesn’t take into consideration the differing cultural styles between the two leagues, with the Premier League quite open and Serie A traditionally a little tighter, but it suggests Conte’s ideals might actually translate rather well to the Spurs squad.

That’s not to say we should expect overnight changes. So far this season, Spurs rank 82nd out of the 98 teams in Europe’s top five leagues for high turnovers (62) and pressed sequences (124). A drastic change of mentality will take a time.

Whipping up a Harry Kane

What Spurs fans will be most intrigued to see, however, is whether Conte can get Kane back to his best.

The England captain could not find a way out of the club in pre-season, with Manchester City lurking, and while he has not exactly kicked up a fuss in public about being made to stay, his performances haven’t helped certain perceptions of him.

After all, he achieved the rare feat of finishing top of the goals and assists charts last season – that hadn’t been accomplished since Andy Cole in 1994. His form was one of few positives for Spurs.

Yet in 2021-22, his productivity has dipped significantly. He has gone from scoring 0.7 goals per game to 0.1, with just a solitary strike in nine Premier League matches.

Now, it would be fair to suggest Nuno’s tactics haven’t helped. Spurs are joint-lowest – with relegation-doomed Norwich City – for shots per game (10.3), and it’s difficult to blame that on one player, regardless of how much Kane has dropped off.

Kane has seen his own shooting frequency almost halve to just 2.1 per 90 minutes from 3.9 last season and he’s not creating much either, his chances created dropping to 0.8 from 1.4 each game.

But with Conte, there is certainly cause for optimism, at least in terms of getting Kane firing again – assuming his poor form is down to system and not a reaction to not getting a transfer.

Granted, Romelu Lukaku and Kane are very different players, but Conte knew how to get the best out of the Belgian, who scored 47 league goals in 72 games under the Italian at a rate of one every 124.9 minutes (0.7 per 90 minutes).

Only for Steve Clarke at West Brom has Lukaku scored more frequently (one every 117.82 mins) in his career (top five leagues).

Of course, Lukaku wasn’t doing it all by himself at Inter – his 3.0 shots per game last season was actually fewer than Lautaro Martinez’s 3.8. They were essentially a two-man frontline, perhaps something we can expect to see with Kane and Son Heung-min once again.

Both Lukaku and Martinez averaged more touches (7.3 and 6.7) and shots (2.6 and 3.0) in the box than Kane (5.0 and 2.5) as well, further evidence of how Conte’s system enables two central strikers to thrive as an attacking threat.

The relationship between Son and Kane has long been heralded, and last season Martinez and Lukaku linked up for eight goals from 29 overall chances – another tick in the pros column.

There will be those who claim Conte represents a gamble, especially given his rather volatile reputation and how that may not fuse well with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, yet you could argue no manager is a guarantee.

But what is undoubtable is Conte’s track record and work ethic as a coach. There’s every reason to think this could be a masterstroke for Spurs, but only if he’s allowed to do it all his way.

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