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Antonio Conte gave Tottenham players the much-needed blow | Antonio Conté

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There, the statswallahs tell us, nothing like the rebound of new managers. Our brain, listening to the identification patterns, spies a regression towards the average and attributes it to the arrival of a new manager. And that’s probably true in the long run. But he seems to ignore how replacing one manager with another can cause players to reset and refocus; a project that has become obsolete can, at least temporarily, be refreshed. He also ignores Antonio Conte.

Five Premier League games since taking over at Tottenham have netted 11 points and, while beating Leeds (narrowly), Brentford and Norwich may not seem like much, the performance in the 2-2 draw of the last week against Liverpool represented a clear recovery. There was an energy and an intensity that hadn’t been seen since the Mauricio Pochettino era – and not even really in the last few months of it.

At this point, before anyone gets too excited, it’s probably worth remembering where Spurs were at Christmas last year. Then, too, Tottenham had just reached the League Cup semi-finals and although they are sixth in the league, a better place than this season, they were only six points behind leaders Liverpool. , and two points behind second, rather than 18 points behind leaders Manchester City and 15 second as they are now (although they have three games in hand on many sides above them).

It had only been two league games earlier than a win at Anfield would have taken them first, and it was even thought that in a strange Covid-affected season, with empty stadiums, a truncated preseason and a compact schedule, José Mourinho’s football vision could be successful again, with the former king returning to ride the ravaged world.

Ultimately, his negativity at Anfield after Spurs equalized created pressure that brought a winner to Liverpool, precipitating the catastrophic cycle of seven wins in 19 league games. So while Tottenham’s stance may look similar to last Christmas, the direction of travel looks very different.

Antonio Conte gave Tottenham players the much-needed blow |  Antonio Conté

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Dele Alli improved his game under Antonio Conte. Photograph: Action Foto Sport / NurPhoto / Shutterstock

The resumption at mid-season should complicate the task of a coach specializing in pressing. Really, he needs a full preseason to get the players fit enough and to instill those role models. At Tottenham, there had been a feeling, under Mourinho and then Nuno Espírito Santo, that fitness levels had dropped from what they were under Pochettino: his pressure demanded it; their more responsive approach did not. And yet, Tottenham went from 100km per game under Nuno, the lowest number in the Premier League, to 115km per game under Conte, the highest.

While being without a number of players must have complicated matters, the three postponed matches may have helped, giving Conte some time to work with his squad without the immediate pressure of the results. But again, the recovery is remarkable. Soccer is getting more and more complicated, but maybe they just had to get out of the ketchup. The condiment ban is easy to laugh at, but it’s important for what it stands for: Conte cares about the details, he demands self-sacrifice, and he changes the larger culture of the club.

The sustainability of this improvement is another question. Jürgen Klopp took over at Liverpool in October 2015 and, after an initial improvement, results were more patchy towards the end of this season as injuries and fatigue took their toll. But that the possibility of fatigue is even a problem is a big improvement; Just a month ago, it was a team that looked like they needed a full replacement.

And it is in Conte. There is a danger that focusing on his personality and energy overlooks the painstaking work he does in terms of structuring pressing programs – and he’s a coach, it should be remembered, who, when he was in charge of Italy, refused to allow anything other than his pluses – trusted assistants to attend his sessions on the pressing so details could not be divulged to opponents – but also the biggest change so far has been that of tone.

When Daniel Levy appointed Mourinho, he was looking for someone who could administer an electric shock to a dying team. Perhaps a decade earlier he could have done it. But it is Mourinho weary, cynical at the end of the period and he quickly began to point out the limits of his players to deflect responsibility from himself. This team is even more dejected now, and yet Conte has brought them back to life: Dele Alli, Harry Winks, Steven Bergwijn and Davinson Sánchez, who all looked dejected, suddenly become footballers again. Ryan Sessegnon has been rediscovered.

Suddenly it’s not just about Son Heung-min and Harry Kane. (Although Kane is another issue; he may not yet be as deadly in front of goal as he is at his best, but at least he has appeared to be re-hired recently.) The Monster, that unsightly hybrid team assembly from previous visions of the club, woke up again.

Conte notoriously always wants more players and always ends up falling out with his board because of it. He will surely require an investment in staff and likely wouldn’t have accepted the job without some assurances no matter what the club may have said in public.

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But he’s good with flawed materials: when he took over Juventus in 2011, they weren’t the super club they became but in transition after the Internazionale hat-trick. When he led Chelsea to the title in 2016-17, they were recovering from what he dubbed the “Mourinho season”. He won the Inter title despite Juve’s apparent dominance (aided, admittedly, by Juve’s oddly self-defeating leadership) against the backdrop of the financial crisis. Among elite level coaches, Conte is arguably the best manager of lower level players than the elite.

Which should give Tottenham hope. It’s a team that takes work, but Conte’s arrival, intensity and energy were enough to stop a year of decline, itself followed by around 18 months of drift. It may be true that the average manager only makes a limited difference, but Conte is not an average manager.

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