Many questioned whether Tottenham Hotspur could ever be moulded by Antonio Conte in his own image. After all, the North London club became renowned for a different style of football in five years under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino. On the basis of the opening weekend win over Southampton, though, Spurs are very much a Conte team this season.
All the hallmarks of Conte’s coaching principles were there in the 4-1 comeback victory. Tottenham played with a back three and demonstrated great physicality through a double pivot in the centre of the pitch. Most crucially, they attacked with speed and precision when they had the opportunity.
Ryan Sessegnon was one of Spurs’ most impressive performers, scoring the goal that got his team back on level terms following James Ward-Prowse’s surprise opener. The 22-year-old was a constant threat down the left wing for the home team and gave Tottenham an outlet to carry the ball forward.
“I am really pleased for Sess because Sess, first of all, we are working very well with him, especially on the physical aspect because in the past this player had many injuries,” said Conte after the opening day win. “After one month, two months and again – injury or muscular problem. He is working well, and we are giving him stability in the physical aspect. It is very important we sign a player like Ivan Perisic because he can see the way to try to learn something from Ivan.”
It wasn’t so long ago that Sessegnon was widely viewed as one of the brightest young talents in English football. However, he didn’t develop as quickly as many predicted he would and some even went as far as to write him off as a potential star at the top level. Now, though, with Conte taking a keen interest in his growth, Sessegnon is flourishing.
There are still flaws in his game. Sessegnon doesn’t have the defensive instincts to play as a left back in a conventional back four, but his game is naturally suited to Conte’s system which makes great use of wing backs. Conte has embraced the attacking urges Sessegnon has and asked him to get forward as often as possible.
Only Son Heung-min made more crosses against Southampton than Sessegnon with the 22-year-old also registering two shots on goal. Conte has clearly informed Sessegnon to make late runs into the opposition penalty box whenever possible – it was this instruction that led to the equaliser to make it 1-1.
Sessegnon certainly was the only Tottenham player to catch the eye on opening weekend. Dejan Kulusevski was arguably the best player on the pitch with the Swedish international central to a lot of the good work Spurs did in the final third. Son was also in form even if Harry Kane lacked sharpness when it mattered most.
However, Conte has built a team that is no longer so reliant on the output of Kane in the attacking third. The English captain is still Spurs’ top scorer and centre forward, but there is now enough talent for the North London side to survive even when he is quiet. The improvement in Sessegnon’s game only underlines this further. He gives Tottenham a different dimension down the left wing.
Conte might come to favour Ivan Perisic in the left wing back position this season once the Croatian international has acclimatised to his new surroundings, but Sessegnon is learning a lot from the Italian coach. He could be an important figure in what is shaping up to be a momentous season for Tottenham.