Antonio Conte's return to Spurs will be tonic to their spineless woes
RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: It’s the same old story for SPINELESS Spurs after second defeat in a week at Wolves… Tottenham have had so many false dawns it’s a wonder they haven’t yet strangled their cockerel
- Tottenham again showed their vulnerabilities in weekend defeat to Wolves
- Spurs dominated the first-half but were made to rue their missed chances
- Antonio Conte will return for their Champions League clash with AC Milan
His gallbladder is out but the pain in Antonio Conte’s backside never went away. Evidently there is no easy fix, surgical or otherwise, for the enduring mystery that is Tottenham Hotspur, a club that has had so many false dawns it is a wonder they have not yet strangled their cockerel.
In the context of this strange season, that would apply to the glaringly meek way in which they have just surrendered the rhythm that had been building with those wins over Chelsea and West Ham.
To lose to Sheffield United in the FA Cup in midweek was a stupefying waste of an opportunity, and to follow it with such a poor defeat at Wolves was to open a trapdoor to fifth and sixth in the league.
Suddenly, the landscape Conte will survey, having returned from a month of sick leave, is of a campaign in close proximity to a wasteland.
Should Tottenham fail to overturn a 1-0 deficit against AC Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday, then their season will rest on how well they handle the pressure from Newcastle and Liverpool. Unfortunately, there is a word for how Spurs have historically processed those situations.
Antonio Conte will return to the Tottenham dugout this week to take charge against AC Milan
Wolverhampton’s Adama Traore (right) scored the only goal of the game against Spurs
Spurs striker Harry Kane was starved of chances by his Tottenham team-mates against Wolves
That question of mentality has returned in the past week, if indeed it went away. Assistant manager Cristian Stellini tapped into the recurring theme after the Cup exit by alluding to the squad’s lack of hunger for success, though he was reluctant to go back to that place after a Wolves loss that supported different strands of the same argument.
And yet it was abundantly obvious to those present on Saturday that Tottenham never should have lost, as they so dominated the first half. What was so alarming was how their confidence dissipated in the face of spirited opposition.
The front-foot assault gave way dramatically to a cowering on the edge of their own area, and whereas Wolves had been able to withstand pressure, Tottenham ultimately caved when the boot was on Adama Traore’s foot.
There was of course more to it than that. The game was largely changed by Julen Lopetegui’s substitutions — all five by the 68th minute, with Traore, Raul Jimenez and Joao Moutinho becoming the most influential players — but Tottenham were deeply complicit in their downfall.
They never found a meaningful supply route to Harry Kane and the many chances they did create — 22 of them — were squandered because, in Stellini’s words, they were not ‘nasty’ enough.
Tottenham must find a reliable supply route for Kane (middle) if they want to get back to their best
Spurs assistant coach Cristian Stellini (right) insisted Tottenham were not ‘nasty’ enough against Wolves
In Conte’s favour is a soft run of fixtures. If the Milan tie can be turned, then Tottenham face Nottingham Forest, Southampton, Everton, Brighton and Bournemouth in succession, before a defining run against Newcastle, Manchester United and Liverpool in April.
The schedule looks like a gift, but that relies on them becoming coherent again, especially if the likelihood of Conte’s summer departure becomes a distraction.
For the time being, his return is being seen as a tonic, with Ben Davies saying: ‘It’s been a while now but we have a huge game on Wednesday and it is very important he is with us.’
Wolves are shuffling ever further away from relegation, which demonstrates the impact of Lopetegui. The only sour note of his weekend was the seemingly serious knee injury that could bring an end to Diego Costa’s underwhelming spell. He had a scan yesterday to assess if there was ligament damage.
MATCH FACTS – WOLVES V TOTTENHAM
Wolverhampton WANDERERS (4-2-3-1): Sa 7; Semedo 6.5, Dawson 7, Kilman 7, Jonny 6.5; Neves 7.5, Lemina 6 (Traore 46min, 7); Sarabia 6.5 (Cunha 67, 6), Nunes 6.5 (Moutinho 67, 7), Neto 6 (Collins 46, 6); Costa 6 (Jimenez 28, 8).
Booked: Neves. Scorer: Traore 82. Manager: Julen Lopetegui 7.
Tottenham HOTSPUR (3-4-3): Forster 7.5; Romero 6.5, Lenglet 6.5, Davies 7 (Richarlison 85); Porro 7 (Royal 82), Skipp 7, Hojbjerg 7, Perisic 6; Kulusevski 6.5 (Moura 77), Kane 6, Son 7.
Booked: Kulusevski. Manager: Cristian Stellini 6. Referee: Tim Robinson 6. Attendance: Not provided.
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