Is Antonio Conte too stubborn to improve his Champions League record?
“The way he plays, his mentality, the way he sets his team up is for a long season, a grinding season and that is how he has achieved things,” said the former Tottenham manager. Hoddle suggested Conte’s blueprint can be too one-dimensional, that its limitations can be exposed by the best.
He explained: “I think are some shrewd cookies out there who say ‘let’s not go gung-ho against Tottenham or a Conte team, let’s make it a more balanced game so that they come out and play against us’. So I think that is where he has got caught out. When you go to the quarters of the semis, you are going to get some really top-quality coaches and top-quality players.”
Conte’s Spurs were thrashed 4-1 by Leicester on Saturday
Conte’s credentials as a big-game manager were established in the Premier League. Thus far this season, however, he has a lone win against what may be deemed the big seven, last week’s triumph over Manchester City. The Italian missed the match, courtesy of gallbladder surgery. “Conte will have been sitting at home watching that thinking, ‘Why they haven’t done that more often? That is the template for them in Europe,” Hoddle said.
But even the template poses problems. Conte has become a byword for a back three; add in wing-backs and it can leave his sides looking passive and outnumbered in midfield. “I don’t think we can go out and control a game, certainly with that system,” Hoddle said. “We have to pedal back because he wants to go to a five. It is very hard to get pressure on the ball in midfield then. You can press high up, but if they get through then you’re in trouble. They have to play that way, but I’m not sure they can go and play that way against a Real Madrid. If they get past Milan they’d need a good draw again to get to the semis.”
One issue, compared to the Tottenham team Mauricio Pochettino took to the 2019 Champions League final, is the lack of a midfielder who can play defence-splitting passes. “They had a Christian Eriksen,” Hoddle added; he was too modest to say the current side lack a modern-day Glenn Hoddle. Tottenham, he thinks, can be pedestrian, too reliant on Harry Kane to double up as the playmaker.
Another problem is the rigidity of Conte’s thinking. “It becomes knockout, you then have to change your philosophy, if you are 2-0 down, you have to go for it. I don’t see him having that flexibility sometimes, or that X-factor,” Hoddle said.
Richarlison has provided a different option for Conte in Europe
Tottenham do at least have ample experience of going 2-0 down recently, but their comebacks have tended to be against the Premier League’s lesser lights. Hoddle is looking for evidence Conte can shift his thinking and change his record in Europe.
“There is a time when he might have to go into a [back] four, which he is very reluctant to do, but get an extra player into that midfield. He could even bring Kane into that No. 10 position and play Richarlison or [Heung-Min] Son up top. For Europe, they need to have a plan B there ready to change up to and make it different. At the moment, when it works it works but they are easy to read.”
If Conte cannot unveil Plan B against AC, the risk is his European record remains undistinguished.
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