Tottenham’s resurgence under Antonio Conte has been clear for all to see. From the nadir of having substitutions and conceded goals being loudly booed around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium under Nuno Espirito Santo, Spurs have looked like a new side in recent weeks.
It did take them a little time to adapt, of course. Conte’s opening game that dour 0-0 at a toothless Everton in which his side failed to register a shot on target. Two games after that was the ignominious defeat to NS Mura, where he expressed his disappointment with the quality in the squad.
They were also 1-0 down to Leeds after a rather blunt first half, but whatever was said at the break worked as Tottenham ran out deserved 2-1 winners.
Admittedly, Conte has been fortunate with regards to the opposition he’s faced, but you can only beat what’s in front of you.
Since the draw with Everton, their only dropped points have come against Liverpool and Southampton, and they can count themselves hard done by not to have won both.
You could actually argue luck has been somewhat against Antonio Conte in his eight games in charge; Spurs have registered a higher xG tally than their opponents in every game under the Italian, winning five and drawing three.
Following the 3-0 defeat to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United, Spurs were 7/1 shots for the top four despite only being two points behind Arsenal, United and West Ham (the latter in fourth having played a game fewer at the time), such was the nature of their performances and results.
Only Watford, Newcastle and Norwich had a lower xG than Spurs at the time of Santo’s sacking. They didn’t even have the strong rearguard that led Wolves to consecutive seventh-place finishes on their return to the top flight, with only six teams having conceded more.
Managers don’t often survive very long when their own fans are chanting ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’, particularly with a manager like Conte waiting by the phone.
Sure enough, the axe fell and the Italian was installed 48 hours later, with the immediate task of getting a tune out of Harry Kane.
Kane, who’s all too familiar with slow starts to seasons, looked a shell of his former self after being denied his desired summer move to Manchester City, scoring just one goal in nine games under Nuno.
The initial suggestions were that Kane was sulking. Although the England captain won’t have enjoyed his first few weeks of the season, the reality is his new manager didn’t know how to use him effectively.
Kane was an increasingly peripheral figure, isolated as his team-mates couldn’t find him in dangerous spaces, not aided by the tendency to try and build out from the back, with the defenders unable to successfully do so, often resulting in hopeful punts upfield.
The 3-0 hammering at Selhurst Park saw him fail to have a single touch in the Crystal Palace area – the first time that had happened when he’d played 90 minutes of a Premier League match.
While Kane has been arguably the best all-round striker in world football over the past few years with a unique combination of being lethal in the 18-yard box, but also able to drop deep and operate as a top-class creator, Santo had Kane too deep, while Conte seems happier to let him be a forward again.
Under Santo, Kane contributed 64 pressures in the attacking third, compared to just 37 under Conte. He’s gone from being involved in 1.71 shot-creating actions per 90, compared to 2.65 under Conte.
Kane is showing glimpses of returning to the playmaker of old, getting the ball forward and bringing the likes of Lucas and Son Heung-min into play, which has contributed to a much better attacking output for Spurs.
Spurs are now finding themselves in better attacking positions and creating more dangerous scoring opportunities. They’re now having 40 more touches per game in the final third and 11 more touches in the box, and have gone from 10.4 shots a game (3.7 on target) under Santo to 14.9 under Conte (5.8 on target).
Their average distance from goal per shot has also dropped from 17.6 yards to 14.7 yards in the eight games under Conte, and their xG per game has rocketed from 1.06 to 2.2. Their recent results – combined with that of their rivals – have seen them shorten to 15/8 for a top-four finish and 4/11 for a top-six finish.
Kane has experienced a similar jump; he scored one goal under Santo with an xG of 2.0, but has scored three goals with an xG of 5.6 under Conte.
It’s fair to assume that a finisher of Kane’s calibre will start to hit the back of the net on a more regular basis, and while punters might not be in a rush to back Kane for the Premier League Golden Boot (25/1), they might be interested in the player’s goal line.
Should Kane continue as he has since the managerial change, you’d expect him to vastly outscore his first 10 games of the season, but time isn’t on his side, and he’s on course for his lowest-scoring Premier League campaign since breaking into the Tottenham side. He’s 4/11 to score 15 or fewer Premier League goals.
Still on four goals as Tottenham approach the halfway point of the season, Kane is 11/4 to score 16-18 and 12/1 to score 19-21.
Kane will need to average a goal a game between now and the rest of the season to reach 24 – he’s 33/1 to score 22-24, and 100/1 for 25 or more.