Conte: Tottenham manager on transfer investment, form and Covid-19 chaos

Tottenham have produced a stark upturn in form since Antonio Conte took the reins last month, but how will the Italian approach his toughest test yet when his side host Liverpool in front of the Sky cameras this weekend?

Three wins and a draw from four league games under Conte has seen Spurs rise from troubled waters into seventh spot in the league table going into the weekend, with three games in hand over all but one of the teams above them - potentially nine additional points, which, as it stands, would leave Spurs merely three points shy of third-placed Chelsea.

That scenario has come against the backdrop of a fresh wave in Covid-19 cases, with the London club having a game with Burnley postponed due to snow, the match with Brighton called off due to a Covid outbreak at the club and an eleventh-hour cancellation in Leicester on Thursday.

In addition, the fate of Spurs' progress in the inaugural Europa Conference League remains uncertain after the club were forced to cancel their fixture with Rennes due to the virus - a game they needed to play, and win, to guarantee qualification to the next round.

Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports, Tottenham manager Antonio Conte explains how the current crisis has rocked the club, the importance of his backroom team, the source of his passion, why he got Spurs running again and how Liverpool are the template for success...

Settling in unsettling times

"Honestly, in this moment, it's not easy," says Conte. "We have three games that we have to play, we don't know when, and we don't know if, in the future, other games will be postponed. With the Covid problem, it's very difficult for us to think what will happen.

"We were working very well for two weeks and then the Covid problems started. Now, we played the last game two weeks ago. We had three days at the training ground closed and we didn't have a training session.

Conte

"And then many players were affected with Covid, and for this reason, we had many training sessions with only 11 or 12 players. It's not easy: you need the whole squad [in order] to work."

Despite the current complexities, when asked about his general first impressions of the squad, he nods his head approvingly. "The players have worked, to try and improve - to follow our tactical idea. I have found this at Tottenham and I think this is very important."

Antonio Conte pose with his brother Gianluca during the first FC Internazionale training after winning the Serie A title at Appiano Gentile on May 05, 2021

Image:Antonio Conte with brother Gianluca during the first training session with Inter Milan after winning the Serie A title last season

The backroom team has also taken shape, comprising Cristian Stellini, Costantino Coratti, Gian Piero Ventrone, Stefano Bruno and brother Gianluca Conte - an assistant and analyst with a coaching CV spanning 15 years - working exclusively alongside his younger sibling at Bari, Siena, Juventus, the national Italy team, Chelsea and Inter Milan.

"I have an important relationship with my brother. For sure, we have many meetings to discuss analysis about the team we are going to play, and sometimes he gives me important advice during the game, between the first and second half. He has an important role in my staff."

Fire and ice

In customary fashion, Conte appears cool and collected when responding to questions - but where does his animated passion on the sidelines come from? "I like to play with my players," he says. "I live in a high-intensity way.

"When you start to play against your opponent, I want my players to know I am with them on the pitch and also try to help them if they don't find a good solution."

Conte

That energy reflects his style of play, with his teams frequently covering above-average distances. Indeed, Conte hoisted Chelsea from ranking 17th to seventh in that metric during his first season and up to third in his second term.

However, Tottenham had run less than any other Premier League team upon Conte's appointment. Indeed, the team ran considerably less than opponents in six out of 10 games before Conte arrived.

Conte

Since his appointment, Spurs have registered greater distances than opponents in all four matches, culminating in a season-high 121km against Norwich last time out - a far cry from the 95km against Crystal Palace in September.

"I think if you want to have a good team, ambition to work on many aspects [is necessary] - and not only tactical aspects but also physical aspects. [In the Premier League], you need to have a good physical condition.

"We want to bring intensity and have intensity during training sessions. For this reason, it's very important the team [work with staff on this]."

The Italian has become almost synonymous with a three-at-the-back system, which he deployed with title-winning success during his first term at Chelsea. But, of course, there is much more to his preferred style of play than a choice of system.

SYSTEMS
(Skysports)

"I started my career with four at the back, with a 4-2-4 in Serie B, in Italy," adds Conte. "When I started my path with Juventus and Chelsea I started to play with a 4-2-4 or a 4-2-3-1, but then it depends on the characteristics of the players.

"When I arrived at Tottenham, I thought it was very important to find a solution and play with three at the back [because] of the characteristics of the players. I think the most important thing for a team is to find the balance between offence and defence."

Conte entered the dazzling Tottenham Hotspur Stadium arena with a line of command to chairman Daniel Levy, who has grown a reputation as a shrewd and hard businessman, with a vision for the team both on and off the pitch.

So what is the measure of success for Levy and the club - which has now gone 14 years without a major trophy? "Honestly, we didn't speak about this [target]," says Conte.

"I wanted to come to Tottenham because I found their characteristics were what I like to work with: fantastic training ground and stadium. I, and people, know very well that, in this moment, we have just started our work. We need patience.

"When you start to work, you have to work on many aspects, there are also psychological aspects."

Liverpool template for success

Question marks remain over the future of Harry Kane - who has scored only one league goal from 13 appearances this season after his move to Manchester City collapsed in the summer - and Conte is likely to stamp his mark on the squad when the transfer window swings open in a fortnight.

Indeed, Conte references upcoming visitors Liverpool as a template for success since the club appointed Jurgen Klopp back in 2015.

"On Sunday, we play against a team that can teach us a lot, because I think Jurgen Klopp, when he arrived at Liverpool, he started a fantastic job. But the first season they didn't [achieve] so much, but the work began.

"If you want to reach this level, you need work, time, patience and investment [on transfers]."

How do you stop Liverpool?

The form guide bodes well for Spurs, but the 10 points from a possible 12 under Conte have come against bottom-half opposition. So, Liverpool surely pose the greatest test to date for the 52-year-old?

"Yes, Liverpool have many solutions during the game. It won't be easy but we have to work as a team. We prepare for the game.

"We know very well we are facing one of the best teams in the world, but, at the same time, I think that it's good to have this type of game, because we want to understand [how to face] these top teams."

Source: Skysports.com

Main ph: The Independent (video)