There was much optimism after Tottenham defeated defending Premier League champions Manchester City two weeks ago. Spurs now go into Sunday’s fixture with West Ham off the back of two disappointing defeats. With Antonio Conte back in Italy for the foreseeable future, is there still a way to salvage the club’s season?
Unlike the thrashing at Leicester, there were certainly some positives to take from that 1-0 defeat in Milan in the Champions League. Namely the performances of Pape Matar Sarr and Oliver Skipp in midfield, who out-shone all of their more experienced teammates on the night. The irony is that those two were the talking point in the build up, as if they might be the teams downfall. That tie is far from over, leaving belief in the Tottenham ranks that they can overturn that 1-0 deficit in the second leg in London.
Inconsistency still a huge problem for Tottenham
But the fact remains that Spurs lost yet another game, making it five defeats in ten games in all competitions since the start of January. The level of inconsistency shown highlights a real worry for the club. It is also a massive and ongoing frustration for the fans. Every win followed by a loss, every up followed by a down. Very rarely do Tottenham put any sort of winning streak together.
In fact when you look at the statistics, they are pretty damning for Antonio Conte’s side. In 2022/23, at no stage has the club won more than two Premier League games in a row. On five different occasions, a win was followed by a defeat straight afterwards. Throughout his entire tenure at the club, they have only achieved three consecutive league wins on three occasions. All of those were last season.
You can dress it up any way that you like, but the lack of consistency in performance and a complete unpredictability about which Tottenham is going to turn up each week, is not a sign of a club that has any real stability. And why should it have any stability? The manager refuses to even speak about his future beyond this season. He constantly states, as he did last season, that a decision will be made that is ‘best for the club’. That no doubt has an affect on the players who he expects to buy into his philosophy.
Conte’s career path repeating itself
Anyone who knows about Antonio Conte will be able to tell you that his managerial career has been one that has been defined by success, followed very shortly by implosion and a parting of ways with his club. Since 2011, the longest he has stayed in any job was his three-year stint at Juventus between 2011 and 2014. Since then he has spent a total of two years at a time at each of his managerial appointments. Italy (2014-16), Chelsea (2016-18), Inter Milan (2019-21) and it would now be very hard to imagine a scenario in which his Tottenham stint does not read ‘Tottenham Hotspur (2021-23)’.
In terms of his time at Spurs, he brought Champions League football back to the club. That is a massive achievement. But for a variety of reasons, his second season has been riddled with doubt and a refusal to speak about the future. Despite showing signs of passion – and the occasional public display of affection for the fans – there is an underlying feeling within that fan-base that he believes that he is above the level the club can provide him. Whether that is true or not, remains to be seen.
Couple that with what has been an incredibly difficult time for him personally, having lost three close friends in a matter of months, alongside his own personal health issues – and it is easy to see why this collaboration may be coming to its natural end.
Is it inevitable that Pocchetino will return?
There is no doubt that the club can see where this is heading. So what do they do? Wait around until the summer? Watching the occasional decent performance, followed by an inevitable defeat? Watching players play out the season in a way that befits a side that knows their manager is not sticking around? Or do they make a change now? Bring in someone who really wants to be there, who may even have a pre-existing passion for the club. Someone who could take a season where there is still a lot to play for by the scruff of the neck and achieve something, whilst building the team for next season in their particular image.
There can be no hiding from the fact that this person could be Mauricio Pochettino. A very in-demand manager who has been conspicuous by his absence from employment since leaving PSG last summer. He will most likely be approached by just about every major club with a vacancy in Europe. And yet he is still not in a job. He waits in the wings, still living in London. Presumably, he watches with a very close eye on what may happen with Conte.
It is the stuff of fairy-tales of course. There are very few examples of managers returning to clubs and having it quite so good the second time around. But that is not to say that it is impossible. If anything, watching Sarr and Skipp dominate the midfield in Milan on Tuesday stirred thoughts of what Pochettino might be able to do with youth like that. After all, that is what made his time at Tottenham so special. His ability to bring youth through and turn them into stars. Some have never recovered since he left. It takes an injury catastrophe of epic proportions for Conte to even consider giving youth a chance. This is because he is a win-now manager, at a club with a different philosophy.
Stellini in charge for game against West Ham
Conte is in Italy for the foreseeable future having gone against doctors orders, by returning to the touchline just ten days after his gallbladder removal. He will therefore not be on the touchline for the match at home to West Ham on Sunday.
His assistant Cristian Stellini has been an able deputy in his absence already this season. He was in charge for perhaps the clubs two biggest wins of the season against Marseille and Manchester City. Those results could allay any fears that Conte’s absence affects the team. But there is always a feeling that the club are only one defeat away from making a big decision that would probably be best for all parties.