After a promising start to the season amid hopes of potential trophy challenges, Tottenham have taken just one point from the last nine available to them in the Premier League and Champions League.

It’s their worst three-game run under Antonio Conte, and the developing wounds were stripped of their fresh bandages late on Wednesday night.

Spurs thought they had scored a 95th-minute winner at home to Sporting CP to ensure qualification to the Champions League last 16 as the victors of Group D. But after a lengthy and dubious three-minute VAR check, Harry Kane’s strike was ruled out for offside.

Such late drama came at the back end of a manic second half in which Tottenham penned Sporting in and will feel aggrieved that they didn’t take all three points one way or another.

But Spurs were largely in this scenario because they fell behind to a Marcus Edwards goal (obviously) during a first 45 in which they played without aggression and intensity on both sides of the ball. It was stunning to see the hosts go into the break with 51% possession considering they were so aimless with it.

Hugo Lloris notably and thoughtfully said post-match: “There are two ways to reflect about the game. The one I prefer is to say if we had played the first half in the same way as the second – with the same energy, with the same willingness to go forward, to press the opponent and be very dominant – probably the score would have been different.

“The other way to reflect on the game is the goal disallowed in the last minute. Everyone can have their own opinion about the decision and the action.”

He added: “Like every team, playing every three days you cannot play 90 minutes with intensity, so you miss 20 to 30 minutes in a game. [In that period] we have to be more cautious and try to avoid conceding chances. But that is high-level football. It is just a period we have to deal with and go through and hopefully we will finish this period with better feelings.”

Therein lies the big problem about Spurs’ season, the key reason (aside from Dejan Kulusevski’s prolonged absence) why they haven’t yet hit the on-field heights of last term.

Conte’s teams are noticeably sharper when they don’t have midweek commitments. It’s been a running theme throughout his managerial career and one that’s been deserved.

The Italian has advanced from the Champions League group stage just twice in his five attempts as a coach. In three of his five domestic title triumphs, his teams were not in European competition for the second half of the season, twice were they victorious without continental football at all.

Spurs’ march to the top four last season – later becoming the most lethal attacking teams in the country this calendar year by August – was predicated on Conte’s one-game-a-week methods. Tottenham have not had a midweek off since the opening month of the season and it’s showing.

Where their performances not quite at the highest level at the start of the campaign might be attributed to randomness or simple human nature of teams just having slow starts sometimes, there is now a noticeable malaise as Lloris pointed out.

Conte may have tried behind the scenes to come up with solutions to his biggest weakness – it’s fair to give an elite manager the benefit of the doubt that they will eventually solve their own problems – but they have yet to work. He will be judged by results and ultimately they have fallen below par to this point, while it won’t have helped that rival Mikel Arteta has managed to shake off the same criticisms.

Tottenham may be able to excuse such a recent run of form and play up Conte’s assertions that this is still the beginning of the ‘project’ and that he needs ‘patience’ to find a winning formula.

The problem is he’s admittedly not a manager who thinks in the long-term. When the time comes to having a normal season schedule again and their window to achieve something could be slightly more open, there’s no guarantee that Conte will still be around.


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