“The club, in the last years, has been slipping,” Antonio Conte said of Spurs on Wednesday.
“If I compare Tottenham to when I was in Chelsea, Tottenham was very, very competitive, was a really, really strong team.
“And I think that to lose important players or someone became old and then to have a change of generation, I think Tottenham now is paying a bit of this.”
He’s not wrong. If anything, it’s too close to what a Spurs fan would say about their own club, similar to that old out-of-context Jan Vertonghen tweet that pops up every time Tottenham get packed in.
Conte’s four games in charge of Spurs so far have been unique in their own right. His debut on the touchline vs Vitesse saw him unlock the side’s undoubted attacking potential, before nearly throwing away the win because of their defensive frailties.
In the Premier League, a gritty 0-0 draw at Everton was followed by a hard-earned 2-1 comeback win at home to Leeds. And then you had the NS Mura incident, storming onto a list of the most embarrassing moments in Spurs history (alongside about six other nonsenses from this calendar year alone).
Conte has repeatedly stressed that he is not a miracle worker and cannot change Tottenham’s fortunes overnight, but after spending a month in north London, it’s fair to expect more of what happened in the second half of their Leeds triumph rather than what happened in Slovenia.
In that victory over Marcelo Bielsa’s side, Spurs were short of standout individuals, but their work to elevate themselves as a team, help each other grow into the game and turn it around was exactly what you would expect of a Conte lineup. There was a clear system and the players carried out their duties brilliantly.
This is why the visit of Brentford on Thursday night will show us if the current squad are capable of playing that way consistently.
Bees boss Thomas Frank has said that he was keen for his side to carry over their Championship form into the Premier League, and one way to help that transition was to stick with a tactical switch he made in order to achieve promotion.
For nearly two seasons, Brentford almost exclusively played with a 4-3-3, but changed to a 3-5-2 midway through the 2020/21 campaign (Frank has previously admitted that three-at-the-back formations add another wrinkle for the opposition to figure out). For the sake of continuity and impressing defensively, that stuck upon their arrival to the top flight.
Brentford are excellent at the basics and fundamentals of football – they will always find a way to create chances and advance themselves up the pitch, trying to find the right balance between risk and reward in the process. Going forward, Frank loves for his wing backs to act as wingers, hanging on the touchline and byline whenever possible.
Spurs have struggled for much of the post-Mauricio Pochettino era with defending and getting the basics right. There have also been long barren runs where they’ve looked toothless despite their wealth of attacking talent – they recently went over four hours without registering a shot on target in the Premier League.
A ropey Tottenham defence will be put through their paces by Ivan Toney – second behind only Chris Wood in terms of aerial duels won this season – and their wing back/winger hybrids. Spurs’ best chance of victory comes through their superior talent and not losing their duels in the formation match-up.
The Bees ended a run of four games without a win by beating Everton 1-0 on Sunday, giving them a much-needed confidence boost and easing talk of a relegation battle. That intangible lift will almost certainly negate Spurs’ extra rest from the Burnley postponement.
Brentford won’t be overawed by the occasion and know Spurs are still vulnerable – this is a big test of character for Conte’s men.