Conte runs out of excuses after Spurs’ Milan loss as Pochettino looms
In pictures: Tottenham v Milan
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On a wet and miserable night in north London, Tottenham’s football very much reflected the weather as they crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage with a whimper. A 0-0 draw with AC Milan, in which Cristian Romero was sent off for two yellow cards in the second-half, saw them eliminated 1-0 on aggregate, and the pressure has now been heaped further on manager Antonio Conte’s shoulders.
Here are five talking points from yet another hugely disappointing 90 minutes from Tottenham…
Conte runs out of excuses
Conte is a man who rarely points the finger of blame at himself, but he has now truly run out of excuses for his side’s dire showings.
The Italian looked back to his animated self on the touchline on his return from his recovery from gallbladder surgery, earning a yellow card in the first-half for protesting a decision in an over-exuberant manner.
But yet again, his team didn’t seem to have a clear plan, the crowd weren’t behind him, and he made substitutions too late as Spurs crashed out of another competition to leave them with just a top four place to play for. The squad he has may not be perfect, but Conte should be getting a much better tune out them by now given the enormous wages he earns, and it is as simple as that.
This apathy simply isn’t sustainable until the end of the season, and surely chairman Daniel Levy must be considering pulling the trigger before then. Mauricio Pochettino is waiting in the wings, and would be the much-needed lift the club need as things threaten to turn poisonous once again.
Spurs punished for pragmatic approach
One of the biggest gripes with Spurs fans hasn’t just been losing games, but losing games while playing defensive, unambitious football.
On a big European night under the lights chasing a one goal deficit, one may have expected the home side to come out all guns blazing to try to gain the early advantage, get the ground rocking and shake the opponents.
But yet again it was a safety-first approach, and the crowd were audibly frustrated at the lack of urgency, with Spurs mainly reliant on soaking up the pressure and hitting hopeful long balls for Harry Kane and Heung-min Son to chase or relying on set-pieces – tactics which, at this level, simply aren’t good enough.
There was also fury from the stands as winger Dejan Kulusevski was taken off for centre-back Davinson Sanchez late on, in a substitute in which Conte almost appeared to throw in the towel.
There is no flair, no creativity and no joy – and that is what’s unforgivable.
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What’s happened to Kulusevski?
Much has been made of Son’s dramatic decline this season. But just as disappointing since the turn of the year has been Kulusevski.
The Swede has been one of Spurs’ most important players of the Conte era, with his creativity and intelligence regularly carving out opportunities at will.
He has been dreadful for a fair few weeks now, however, and was shocking again tonight, wasting a number of crosses and really struggling to impose himself on the contest.
He certainly has enough credit in the bank to be afforded opportunities to improve, but Kulusevski’s form mirrors that of Tottenham in general, and is a big worry.
Skipp the only bright spark
On a night of bang average performances all across the team, midfielder Oliver Skipp was one of the only Tottenham players to come out of the contest with any sort of credit.
The 22-year-old has had to be patient, first while battling injury issues and then waiting for his opportunity to gain a spot in the starting XI.
But he has shone in recent weeks, and was energetic and combative again tonight. Spurs need a painful rebuild in the summer with a number of familiar faces shipped out, but Skipp should not be one of them.
Leao is the real deal
A whole host of the Premier League big boys have been linked with Milan’s Portuguese forward Rafa Leao. And on this evidence, it isn’t difficult to see why.
The 23-year-old caused concern for the Spurs back-line right from the start, with his pace and physical presence drawing fouls and causing the likes of Ben Davies and Cristian Romero a massive headache.
And he continued to be a menace all night, albeit could have done better with his finishing when played through on more than one occasion.
The star’s contract situation at the San Siro has still not been resolved, meaning he could be available in the summer for the right price, with his current deal set to expire next year. The likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool may be very interested indeed.
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