Conte moves nearer to Tottenham exit door

Conte is not an easy person to manage but Levy is an old hand and has a very strong personality.

In Summary

• Marc Cucurella fell out with Chelsea fans big time but he is making efforts to mend their relationship. 

• Brendan Rodgers is under severe pressure at Leicester City. He believes the return of Johnny Evans could kick-start the club’s climb up the table.

Tottenham Hotspur's manager Antonio Conte gestures during a past Premier League match
Tottenham Hotspur's manager Antonio Conte gestures during a past Premier League match
Image: FILE

Antonio Conte’s move away from Tottenham Hotspur is looking more likely after his stay in Italy to recover from surgery.

The coach enjoyed his family and misses Italy and I know he does not particularly enjoy living in a hotel in London. Out of contract in June, Conte has a difficult relationship with chairman Daniel Levy, who has already started the process of searching for a replacement.

Conte is not an easy person to manage but Levy is an old hand and has a very strong personality. It is rather like the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Mauricio Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel are top of Spurs’ list and, although the Conte situation could still be turned around, it is more likely he will leave.

It is not a coincidence that both sides have been reluctant to sign a new contract. Three consecutive bad results have further pushed Conte towards the door. They lost 1-0 at Sheffield United to exit the FA Cup, drew 0-0 at home to Milan in the Champions League to exit the competition and also lost 1-0 to lowly Wolves.

Conte suffered the humiliation of being jeered by his own supporters when he replaced Dejan Kulusevski for Davinson Sanchez recently. However, a 3-1 win at home to Forest has eased the tension. Even worse was the fans singing Pochettino’s name during the poor performance against Milan.

Conte has admitted that he could face the sack before his contract runs out. He insists that Tottenham needs fresh talent and that at other clubs he has always been granted his wishes. However, Levy does not ‘splash the cash’ readily and runs Tottenham on a tight budget.

Conte was pleased to bring in Rodrigo Bentancur and Kulusevski but he has never been a great fan of the £60million Brazilian signing Richarlison, who has openly criticised Conte Fans and critics are convinced that failing to use the entire squad and relying on his favourites has exhausted players such as Son Heung-Min and Kulusevski, who have been well below form this season.

Many players are also fed up with Conte’s intense training programme. Pochettino probably has the edge after guiding Spurs to third, second, third and fourth in the league and he reached the 2019 Champions League final before losing to Liverpool. He has been out of work since being sacked by Paris Saint-Germain last season which is the situation Thomas Tuchel finds himself in after leaving Chelsea.

He has admitted to being a schoolboy fan of Tottenham. Free agent Luis Enrique has also expressed interest. There is no question that if Tottenham do not act quickly, matters will deteriorate. The situation is being closely watched by Harry Kane, and if he feels the club is limping on to another season of non-achievement, he will definitely jump ship in the summer with several clubs waiting with their chequebooks open. 

Manchester United winger Jadon Sancho during a past Europa League match
Manchester United winger Jadon Sancho during a past Europa League match

Sancho impressing Ten Hag

Erik Ten Hag was pleased with Jadon Sancho’s performance in last weekend’s draw with Southampton. Playing as a No10, Sancho linked up well with Antony and Marcus Rashford, who played out wide.

Bruno Fernandes dropped into a deeper role and played alongside Casemiro until he was sent off. The idea was to give United a strong attacking formation and Ten Hag said: “I think Jadon did quite well as a No10. He was really decisive against Leicester and again against Southampton.

One time, he was close to the goal with a run at the defending line and a cross to Bruno almost resulted in scoring. He did a good job.” Sancho is hoping to keep his starting role either out on the wing or as an attacking midfielder from central areas. Ten Hag believes he can influence games from this position.

He said: “I believe he can make a difference and influence the game. And that is not bad when you play alongside Casemiro and Bruno.”

Cucurella winning back respect

Marc Cucurella fell out with Chelsea fans big time but he is making efforts to mend their relationship. Coach Graham Potter is giving his full-back support and the Blues’ 3-1 win against Leicester gave the defender a chance to show what he can do. He even threw his Chelsea shirt to the fans at the end of the match.

Cucurella took full advantage by performing for his coach with the most tackles made during the match, he won most of his one-on-one duels and had the highest passing accuracy. Playing on the left of a three-man starting defence, he took out the Foxes’ danger man, Kelechi Iheanacho, by preventing him from dropping deep to make vital passes and create chances.

Cucurella also linked up well with Ben Chilwell. This followed his man-of-match performance against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, all of which is a far cry from when he was booed off the pitch for a poor display and substituted against West Ham. Potter has also shown his man-management skills by supporting Cucurella after his home was burgled which left his pregnant wife ‘traumatised’.

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers

Evans and Tielemans could save Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers is under severe pressure at Leicester City. He believes the return of Johnny Evans could kick-start the club’s climb up the table. The veteran centre-back is a born leader and much respected by senior players and after five successive defeats in all competitions, they now face five of their relegation rivals in the next eight games. It is the defining period for Leicester.

Rodgers is thinking of taking the players away during next week’s international break, which he hopes will give them some mental and physical refreshment and make them stronger for the return.

“Just to break the cycle,” he said. Hopefully, Youri Tielemans will join Evans back in the squad. They are Rodgers' ace cards.

Arsenal clean up all the awards

Congratulations to Martin Odegaard who has been named Premier League Player of the Year. Arsenal celebrated a clean sweep with Mikel Arteta winning Manager of the Year, Bukayo Saka went home clutching his Young Player of the Year award and Aaron Ramsdale won Goalkeeper of the Year.

Odegaard said: “It shows how far we have come as a club and what we are doing this year is very special.” I couldn’t put it better.

Aurier willing to stay with Forest if…

Nottingham Forest full-back Serge Aurier has agreed to remain at the club for another season if they succeed in remaining in the Premier League. The Ivory Coast defender, who is injured at present, joined on a free transfer and agreed to stay for a year.

He says there is a clause in his current contract that allows him to stay longer if the club stays in the top tier. Forest are currently 14th but only two points outside the relegation zone, which is developing into a tight contest. Aurier said he has not decided what to do if Forest are relegated.

Moyes confident of turnaround

David Moyes still retains the support of his chairman David Sullivan and is confident he can lead West Ham away from the relegation zone. Fans booed the players off the pitch over the weekend after a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa, which left them only above third-from-bottom Bournemouth on goal difference.

It is all so different to the previous two seasons when Moyes led the club to consecutive sixth and seventh places in the league. After receiving yet another message of support from Sullivan, Moyes said the Premier League is somewhere that you just never know what is going to happen.

He said: “Look at how well Brentford, Fulham and Brighton have done. Who would have predicted that? I am hoping that with all my experience, we can improve. But, ultimately, I need the players to be performing really well. I think we have good players. They can do better than they currently are.”

Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez in action
Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez in action
Image: FILE

Martinez could replace Lloris at Spurs

Tottenham are considering making an offer for Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez as 36-year-old Hugo Lloris nears the end of his career.

Reports have reached my desk from both Tottenham and Argentina that the north London club could make an offer during the next few weeks. Martinez has seen his value rise since winning the World Cup with Argentina where he won the Golden Gloves award and his form in the Premier League this season has been impressive, and his confidence, high.

He has four years remaining on his contract at Villa where he has made 100 appearances with 33 clean sheets. He cost only £10 million from Arsenal but his value has improved now. Everything depends on how well the currently injured Lloris does for the rest of this season and whether Spurs have confidence in him completing another season at the top level come next year.

High-tech stuff at Man United

Football is becoming more high-tech. Manchester United have appointed data scientist, Alex Kleyn, Southampton. The idea is to improve United’s technical data analysis to allow the coaches work more successfully with players and staff.

This will seek to increase United’s performances on the pitch. It is an area that clubs are becoming more aware of and they recognise the value of being able to produce data based on performances, club opposition strengths, weaknesses and training routines.

Most clubs sit in their academy conference rooms every Monday to watch videos of their previous match with the coaches pointing out formations, passing, moves up to the strikers and defensive positions. The new scientific data analysis will help them do that more effectively.