Can Spurs challenge top four under Conte?

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November 23, 2021
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    Antonio Conte celebrates victory against LeedsAntonio Conte has won each of his last 17 home league games as a manager, with the previous 16 all coming with Inter

    At half-time there were jeers but by full-time they had turned into cheers.

    Tottenham boss Antonio Conte punched the air with his fist and roared in delight when the final whistle was blown on Sunday to celebrate a 2-1 win against Leeds and his first Premier League victory in charge of Spurs.

    Just 45 minutes earlier the mood in the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium had been very different as the home side trailed 1-0, having been vastly outperformed their opponents.

    But the second-half turnaround was as swift as it was impressive, with Spurs looking a very different side and one that ultimately Leeds could not live with.

    With the three points moving them to seventh and within four points of the top four, were there signs in the impressive fightback that Spurs can challenge for a top-four finish that seemed out of reach just a few weeks ago?

    Hard work pays off

    Sergio RegulionSergio Reguilon scored his first Premier League goal at the 38th attempt for Tottenham against Leeds

    Prior to Conte's appointment at the start of November, Tottenham had lost three of four games under previous boss Nuno Espirito Santo and appeared to be floundering.

    However, the Italian seems to have had an immediate impact. They are unbeaten in his three games in charge, beating Vitesse 3-2 in the Europa Conference League, drawing at Everton before Sunday's come-from-behind win against Leeds.

    Conte is a tough taskmaster, working his players hard in training as he looks to get them to the level of fitness he demands. Tottenham full-back Sergio Reguilon described sessions under him during the international break as "the worst week of my life".

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    However, his reward was a first Premier League goal for Spurs as he was the matchwinner against Leeds.

    "I am the most happy in the world," he told Sky Sports after the game.

    "It's my first goal in the Premier League and we get three points. Now we continue.

    "When we attack, I have to have the mentality of the striker, that's what the manager wants. Now, I feel dead, but I am also so happy as well."

    Malaise lifted?

    Tottenham Manchester UnitedTottenham lost 3-0 at home to Manchester United last month, days before Antonio Conte was appointed

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    Thoughts of a top-four spot appeared to be a long way off as Spurs slipped down the table in the latter weeks of Nuno's reign.

    They had gone into Sunday's game without a shot on target in almost four hours of Premier League football and while the malaise appeared to continue in the first half, they were a different side in the second and finished with four shots on target, scoring from two of them and hitting the woodwork twice.

    "Spurs came out a different team in the second half," former Arsenal, Birmingham and West Ham defender Matthew Upson told BBC Radio 5 live.

    "The mindset, the way they attacked, the energy in the team was different. They caused real problems for Leeds, which they will do because of the quality in their front three. All credit to them."

    'We want to fight' for Champions League

    It would be easy to write this season off as a transitional one for Spurs, forgetting about lofty finishes in the table and focusing on developing for the future.

    However, Conte is entertaining no such thoughts and vowed his side will be waiting to pounce on any slip-ups by the current top four.

    "We want to fight, we want to improve the position in the table," he said.

    "At this moment, there are four teams that, for many reasons, because they are working with the same coach, they invested a lot of money, at this moment there are four teams and there is a gap. I'm not scared about this.

    "I trust in my players, I trust in my squad. We want to fight to stay close and fight for Champions League.

    "Then if there's one team that slips up this season or makes mistakes, we must be there to try to do our best."

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