From Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – In the past two years, Tottenham hosting Norwich is the type of game they have struggled in.
That would almost be unheard of during the Mauricio Pochettino era, but under Jose Mourinho and briefly Nuno Espirito Santo, Spurs would struggle to create clear cut chances, mainly due to the weird ‘no tactics, just vibes’ approach set out by both Portuguese coaches.
In fact, the last time Spurs hosted Norwich in the Premier League was back in 2020, when they squeezed past the Canaries 2-1 during the midst of an injury crisis.
Under Nuno and Mourinho, it would fall to the individual brilliance of a Harry Kane or a Son Heung-min to bail out the rest of the side.
The approach was always more ‘individual brilliance and fatal mistakes’ than anything more positive in a system sense. You didn’t know what to expect from the Lilywhites at the start, because they didn’t have a designated style of play. Eventually, as cracks began to widen, performances became drearier and drearier, the writing firmly on the wall.
On Sunday, in Antonio Conte’s latest match in charge, Spurs showed they are understanding what their manager wants more clearly.
The ball was frequently shifted out wide, most prominently to Ryan Sessegnon – who replaced the injured Sergio Reguilon – while Son and Lucas Moura picked up the pockets of space infield that were vacant.
It was the lovely interplay with Son that allowed Lucas to unleash a rocket of a shot into the top corner, though Spurs hardly blew the visitors away. In fact, they were behind on possession by both half time and full time, and gave up a number of presentable chances to the Canaries.
Against teams with more quality up front – more than Teemu Pukki, Adam Idah and Josh Sargent, anyway – Spurs would have been dragged back to parity. Davinson Sanchez looked uncomfortable trying to bring the ball out from the back, while Hugo Lloris also nearly gifted Norwich an equaliser just moments after his side went ahead.
While Spurs can be functional for now under Conte, a lack of quality in certain areas will have to be addressed at some point if they want to become a top side again.
In more positive news, the system Conte has put in place is getting better performances out of previously maligned squad members.
Ben Davies – also known as ‘Gentle Ben’ – brought the ball forward with purpose from his centre back position and had a hand in both of Tottenham’s second half goals. Firstly running across the front post as Sanchez lashed in before setting up Son with a weaving run in the box.
It’s incredible that Conte has got a player like Davies contributing like that, but it remains early days. Tougher tests than Brentford in midweek and Norwich on Sunday await Tottenham, with games against Liverpool and West Ham coming up in December before a decent run against Crystal Palace, Southampton and Watford from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day.
The foundations are being put in place, with Conte now taking ten points from his first four league games in charge, but the ceiling of this squad remains fairly limited in comparison to other top sides.
Sunday’s result was undoubtedly positive, but with seven more games left to play in December, Conte will need every member of his squad firing, and – going off a few Europa Conference League results – he may be left hanging in a few games.