We have long asked who will triumph in a battle between Antonio Conte and Spursiness; it turns out that there was a third way – a new, successful, infuriating kind of Spursy. No longer does this team find ever-more-ludicrous ways to lose, but instead finds ever-more-unlikely ways to win. All while largely being quite a bit sh*t.
To say that Tottenham were poor in the first half in Marseille would be misleading. They were not poor but simply nothing. No ambition, no impetus, no sense of urgency, no pressure on the opposition, nothing. There were long passages of play when every single Tottenham player was within 30 yards of their own goal. And not in that backs-to-the-wall-defend-for-your-lives way that is not without merit, but in pure passivity. They offered nothing and allowed the French side two-thirds of the possession, only mustering a shot of their own seven minutes into first-half injury time.
But while the massive Marseille crowd roared and the players celebrated the Chancel Mbemba header that gave them a richly deserved lead, you knew they would need more against this Tottenham side. You generally only get 45 minutes of Tottenham being quite this awful and it’s usually the first 45 minutes; they almost always improve. Ten points have been won from losing positions in the Premier League this season and now seven points in the Champions League, culminating not just in qualification but a seeding in the last-16 stage.
If you wanted a game to perfectly illustrate the ‘game of two halves’ cliche, use this one. By the time the clock had ticked past 48 minutes, it had a completely different dynamic. Tottenham were proactive and brave where they had been passive and cowed. Emerson Royal had replaced the overwhelmed and underprepared Ryan Sessegnon but the bigger change was in attitude; Spurs were playing like they were 45 minutes from Champions League exit instead of hours away from the end of a long season. Rodrigo Bentancur was immense.
It felt like only a matter of time before they levelled, though you would never have guessed the identity of the scorer, Clement Lenglet claiming his first goal of a Tottenham loan spell that has been hard to judge. Marseille looked deflated and Tottenham really should have taken advantage long before Pierre-Emile Højbjerg scored with almost the last kick of the game to turn potential defeat into glorious victory.
Of course there were scares – Sead Kolasinac really should have won it for Marseille with a header so free he probably had too much time to think – but this Tottenham side has more resilience (eventually at least) than any Tottenham side in recent history. It would have been old Spursy to get back into the game but f*** it up anyway; new Spursy gets the often ugly job done.
A year into Antonio Conte’s reign, he has taken Tottenham from ninth in the Premier League to third, supplemented by a place in the last 16 of the Champions League. And this has been achieved with Spurs quite often playing eye-bleedingly bad football. Whether you choose to believe that some day their ‘luck’ will run out, or dream of what they could achieve when they play to their actual potential (presumably when all their attacking players are fit), depends on the fullness of your glass.
But what we do know right now is that this new kind of Spursy gives them half a chance of winning something. Usually the second half.