Could this be the season in which Tottenham finally end their 14-year wait for a major trophy? The cabinet has remained bare since Spurs won the League Cup in 2008, but optimism abounds in the white-and-navy half of north London as the new campaign nears. With several world-class players to call upon, and one of the best managers in the world in their dugout, Spurs have every right to feel positive for what lies ahead.
Qualifying for the Champions League last season feels even more crucial in hindsight. Conte had regularly threatened to walk away in the summer, and he may well have done had Spurs failed to finish in the top four. But a late rally in the second half of the campaign got them over the line ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United. Indeed, Tottenham were technically the best Premier League team from March onwards, as no other side collected as many points between then and the end of the season.
Just as significant as the fourth-place finish was the ownership group’s decision to pump close to €175m into the club’s coffers at the end of the campaign. That move served as evidence that Conte had won his battle with Daniel Levy, the long-serving chairman. Throughout Levy’s tenure, Tottenham have tended to focus on future value in the transfer market. But with Conte unlikely to stick around for long, Spurs have turned their attention to players who are ready to contribute here and now.
The result could be something special. Closing the gap to Manchester City and Liverpool will be difficult, but Tottenham currently look best placed to disrupt the duopoly. A title triumph with Spurs would be the most spectacular accomplishment of Conte’s managerial career to date.
Predicted XI (3-4-3)
Hugo Lloris; Cristian Romero, Eric Dier, Clement Lenglet; Djed Spence, Yves Bissouma, Rodrigo Bentancur, Ivan Perisic; Dejan Kulusevski, Harry Kane, Son Heung-min.
Of all Premier League teams, perhaps only Liverpool and Manchester City have a coach who is the equal of Conte. Tottenham pulled off a major coup in persuading the Italian to join them last year. Conte has a proven track record of delivering success wherever he goes, having won league titles at Juventus, Chelsea and Inter. If anyone can repeat the feat at Tottenham, it is him.
Conte does not tend to stay at any one club for long. His longest stint to date lasted for three years at Juventus, a side with whom he already had a deep connection after making 420 appearances for the Bianconeri as a player. His contract with Spurs expires next summer, and even if this season is successful he could easily move on once it runs out. Tottenham are therefore keen to make the most of Conte while he is around.
An intense operator who demands 100 per cent from his players in every training session, let alone every match, Conte is a natural leader who inspires those around him. He is also a savvy tactician: witness, for example, his team’s brilliant display in a 3-2 victory over Manchester City in February. Every manager who locks horns with Conte this season will be in for a tricky 90 minutes.
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It is an obvious choice, but if Tottenham are to mount a Premier League title challenge they will need Harry Kane to be at the top of his game. The England captain spent the summer of 2021 pushing for a move to Manchester City, but Spurs refused to budge. The fact that Kane was tied down to a long-term contract meant it always going to be difficult for Pep Guardiola’s side to prise him away from north London, and so it proved as Daniel Levy dug in his heels.
Kane did not seem overly happy at first, and he failed to shine early on (although he was not alone in that regard, as Spurs struggled under Nuno Espirito Santo). But as the season wore on, he became more like his old self again. A return of 17 goals was lower than we have grown accustomed to from the Spurs striker, but only Cristiano Ronaldo, Son Heung-min and Mohamed Salah managed more.
Kane is not just a goal-getter either. He creates chances as well as converting them. He was just one assist short of double figures last time out and will fancy his chances of registering at least 10 in a full campaign under Conte.
Ivan Perisic (Inter), Richarlison (Everton), Clement Lenglet (Barcelona), Yves Bissouma (Brighton & Hove Albion), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Djed Spence (Middlesbrough)
Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Troy Parrott (Preston North End, loan), Dane Scarlett (Portsmouth, loan), Jack Clarke (Sunderland), Steven Bergwijn (Ajax)
Our Premier League score card
A couple of years ago, it looked as if Tottenham would need to source a replacement for Hugo Lloris before too long. But the club captain was back to his best last season and he is still the undisputed No.1 as his 36th birthday looms on the horizon. Fraser Forster, a new arrival from Southampton, will be his understudy in 2022/23.
Lloris’ leading attribute is his shot-stopping, at which there are few better. Every season the France international pulls off numerous astonishing stops. He was ever-present in the Premier League last term, proving reliable with his fitness as well as his form.
Lloris is not quite as well rounded as the very best goalkeepers in the division. He cannot match Ederson or Alisson Becker when it comes to distributing the ball out from the back, for example, nor is he the most dominant from crosses. Still, Tottenham fans will be happy to have Lloris between the sticks again this term.
Cristian Romero was among Tottenham’s standout performers last season. Aggressive and front-footed, he is every inch the modern centre-back. The Argentine is tough to beat in one-versus-one situations, and he has the mobility to thrive as one of the two outside centre-backs in Conte’s favoured back three.
The best coaches improve players they inherit, and Eric Dier’s progress last season is evidence of Conte’s acumen. Having stagnated under Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo, Dier looked right at home at the heart of the Spurs defence. He has now made the shift from midfielder to centre-back permanent and will be a regular fixture in the XI this season.
Clement Lenglet provides a left-footed option at the back. He did not have the best of times with Barcelona in 2021/22, but the Frenchman is a gifted footballer and he could shine if he is able to rebuild his confidence.
At an initial fee of less than €30m, Yves Bissouma might turn out to be one of the bargains of the summer. The arrival of the Mali international has gone a little under the radar, but he will thrive at Tottenham if he is able to replicate his Brighton form.
Bissouma works hard and is an accomplished ball-winner, while he has the dynamism and athleticism to thrive in a two-man midfield. He is much more than just a physical presence, though: comfortable on the ball and a creative passer, the 25-year-old is a real all-rounder in the engine room. Bissouma could form a fine partnership with Rodrigo Bentancur, who was tremendous in the second half of last season.
Djed Spence and Emerson Royal will compete for the right wing-back berth, at least until Matt Doherty is back from injury. On the left-hand side, Ivan Perisic remains an excellent player at the age of 33.
The fact that Richarlison is not a guaranteed starter in Tottenham’s front three reveals plenty about the quality at Conte’s disposal at the top end of the pitch. The Brazilian’s versatility means he can play on the right, the left or through the middle, but if everyone is fit he might have to be content with a place among the substitutes.
Dejan Kulusevski proved to be a great addition in the January transfer window. His power and drive down the right added another element to the Tottenham attack, and he chipped in with five goals and eight assists in just 18 Premier League appearances.
The stars of the frontline, though, are Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. The former sits alongside Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski as one of the best centre-forwards in the world. An elite goalscorer, Kane has also become a fantastic creator with a superb range of passing.
Son finished last season as one of the two Premier League top scorers, level with Mohamed Salah. Quick, skilful and a fine finisher with both feet, the South Korea international is one of the preeminent wide forwards in world football.
Tottenham’s recruitment so far this summer has added significant depth to their squad. This is especially true in attacking areas, with Richarlison and Lucas Moura providing strong back-up.
There is perhaps room for improvement at the other end of the field, however. Davinson Sanchez is capable of the ridiculous and the sublime; Conte might prefer a more reliable centre-back in reserve. Joe Rodon may one day become that, but he is still near the start of his career and could leave the club on loan.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Oliver Skipp should get plenty of minutes in the centre of the park, even if neither is an automatic starter. It will be fascinating to see what Conte does with Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele, both of whom spent much of last season out on loan.
Final score: 42/50
Tottenham have done some impressive work in the summer transfer window, adding quality players to a group which already included talent like Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Cristian Romero. With Conte squeezing every last drop out of this side, Spurs are capable of challenging for the title. Finishing ahead of Manchester City and Liverpool might be a bridge too far, however.