Kane, midfield and recruitment: key challenges facing Tottenham

Re-establish the team’s identity
It been nearly two years since Mauricio Pochettino was dismissed after an awful start to the 2019-20 season yet Tottenham have never really moved on from the manager who had led them to the Champions League final a few months earlier. Five of the side that started against Liverpool in Madrid remain at the club – Hugo Lloris, Harry Winks, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane – but neither José Mourinho nor Nuno Espírito Santo was able to establish their imprint on a squad created by Pochettino and weakened by poor recruitment. The expected appointment of Antonio Conte is a statement of intent given the Italian’s vast experience of finding a winning formula, albeit often only in the short term. He demands that players stick to his plan; anyone who does not quickly finds themselves out in the cold.

Introduce a new formation
Conte usually favours a three-man defence with wing-backs – a system that has brought him league titles at Juventus, Chelsea and Internazionale. Nuno, during his brief spell in charge of Spurs, opted against a similar approach that served him so well at Wolves, but adapting to the likely change of formation will be crucial to Tottenham’s recovery. Whether Conte would be able to mould a solid backline from Cristian Romero, Eric Dier, Davinson Sánchez and Joe Rodon remains to be seen, although there are two potentially exciting wing-backs in Sergio Reguilón and Emerson Royal, even if both will be under pressure to improve their defensive performances.

Strengthen midfield and finally replace Eriksen
Tottenham’s main issue under Nuno was a lack of creativity in midfield: no club averages fewer shots per game in the Premier League and neither Alli nor Son has created a scoring chance. Finding an effective partner for Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in midfield and a creative outlet to finally replace Christian Eriksen, who joined Inter in January 2020, will be two of the most important challenges for Spurs. The Denmark international racked up 62 assists and 51 goals at the club and has not been replaced effectively, with Giovani Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndombele and Alli so far failing to step into his shoes. It will be intriguing to see whether Lo Celso, who has shown glimpses of his ability since arriving from Real Betis a few months before Pochettino’s sacking, can thrive under the new manager and whether there is any role for the other two.

Get recruitment right
Conte and Tottenham’s managing director of football, Fabio Paratici, enjoyed spectacular success in three seasons together at Juventus between 2011 and 2014 that yielded three Serie A titles and a record 102 points in the manager’s final campaign. Their relationship has been a key factor in attracting the 52-year-old former Italy manager for talks with Spurs and Conte would expect his compatriot to be on his side if it comes to discussing transfer budgets with a notoriously prudent chairman. Tottenham’s net spend over the past five seasons is £94.6m – one of the lowest in the Premier League – but the new manager will surely demand more investment, with several targets earmarked for January and Daniel Levy likely to come under pressure to match his manager’s ambition.

Restore Harry Kane’s desire
The hangover from a summer of doubt over the England captain’s future seeped into the start of the season and appears still to be affecting Kane. His return of one goal from nine Premier League appearances is partly down to the negative approach under Nuno and a lack of opportunities created by teammates but Tottenham’s star player has looked demotivated at times. In the short term, Kane will relish the opportunity of working with a manager who has made winning trophies a habit. But with less than three years remaining on the 28-year-old’s contract and with Kane having made no secret of his desire to leave for Manchester City, time is against Spurs to persuade Kane that the grass isn’t always greener.

Win a trophy
The drought that stretches back to 2008 and six permanent managers since Juande Ramos led Spurs to victory over Chelsea in the League Cup is always mentioned when a new face arrives. Coming through a tricky Carabao Cup quarter-final against West Ham in December could be Tottenham’s best chance of a trophy this season after defeat by Manchester City in the 2020-21 final and the club will expect to go further than the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2018. The new manager’s approach to the Europa Conference League may not be so warm. The new tournament could be viewed as one distraction too many.