Tottenham may still be unbeaten in the league under Antonio Conte, but their wasteful wing backs are already in the firing line after their underwhelming displays against Watford – improvement is their only option
- Tottenham beat Watford 1-0 on Saturday thanks to a Davinson Sanchez header
- They are unbeaten in their first eight league matches under Antonio Conte
- However, their wing-backs were wasteful with their final ball at Vicarage Road
- Conte could look to strengthen in these areas in the January transfer window
Antonio Conte’s upcoming Chelsea reunion in the Carabao Cup will inevitably spark reminders of his eventful association with the Stamford Bridge club; the good, the bad and the ugly.
Among the good will be memories of the title-winning team he transformed Chelsea into during 2016-17 following his early-season switch to a back-three formation with wing-backs.
And watching the ones he has inherited at Tottenham — Emerson Royal and Sergio Reguilon — struggle at Watford when the onus was on them to be their team’s creative outlets, and then hear Conte mark their card afterwards, it was hard not to fear for them.
Emerson Royal (L) struggled to get his delivery right against Watford on Saturday afternoon
The wing-backs are essential to the success of Conte’s system. He breathed new life into the careers of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses at Chelsea. In Conte’s two years at Inter Milan, seven senior contenders for the wing-back positions were signed and one more recalled from a loan spell.
Conte accepts that energy to get up and down the flank is key to making the role work. Royal and Reguilon were not lacking in that department. But end-product is vital too and at Vicarage Road they were found wanting.
With Watford’s narrow defence forming a yellow brick wall in front of their goal, Spurs’ wing-backs were constantly free.
Reguilon, in acres of space, was at times pleading for the ball so frantically that it would not be unreasonable to think he would make his histrionics worth it when he eventually received possession. Yet none of his five deliveries from open play found a team-mate.
On the other side, Royal swung in 13 crosses and only four were successful.
‘Every single cross he put in had nothing on it,’ said Match of the Day pundit Ian Wright.
Those 18 crosses were by far the most the pair have made in their 11 league games together this season and the 32 as a team was Spurs’ highest tally of the campaign.
Antonio Conte will want more from his wing-backs moving forward during his Spurs tenure
The three games in which they have crossed the most this season have been their last three. In that time the number of attempts at goal has increased but the success-rate has got worse.
This will seemingly be a feature of their play under Conte so improvement is the only option. Conte highlighted the number of crosses after the game and that was an indication of his frustration and should have been taken on board by the biggest culprits.
Also noticeable was his post-match mention of the need for a wing-back to become a winger in possession, which might partly explain why Wolves’ Adama Traore remains a target.
Some of the most successful wing-backs Conte has worked with, such as Moses, Ashley Young and Ivan Perisic, were formerly wingers. Others either already had or developed their attacking qualities, such as Alonso, Achraf Hakimi and Matteo Darmian.
At Watford it was left to Son Heung-min to fire in the free-kick delivery that Davinson Sanchez converted in injury time to earn Spurs victory.
Davinson Sanchez rose highest to score the only goal of the game to hand Tottenham the win
Conte has now become the first Spurs manager to go unbeaten for his first eight league games. He has lifted them back into the Champions League conversation; they are two points off fourth-placed Arsenal — who they face next in the league in a mouth-watering north London derby — with two games in hand.
He has introduced a tactical system and platform to build on and improved the form of numerous players. Now it is over to those who are still coming up short.
And perhaps chairman Daniel Levy too, with the January window open and Conte confirming ‘now I have everything clear’ regarding the areas that need strengthening.
Fourth-bottom Watford have reinforcements on the way starting with Nice left back Hassane Kamara and Eupen defensive midfielder Edo Kayembe.
And they were unfortunate that their improved defensive effort was not rewarded with a first clean sheet of the season.
Goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann said: ‘Our next two League games are against Newcastle and Norwich which are huge, huge games for us.
‘I am sure if we fight like we did against Spurs and play like we did we will have two positive results.’