Antonio Conte: The great Premier League title race disruptor was at it again, as Tottenham’s manager accomplished the seemingly unthinkable and halted the Liverpool steamroller.
Antonio Conte is an elite manager who thrives in elite situations, and his tactical and organizational skills were on display in a deserved 1-1 draw at Anfield, adding a twist to the season’s league finale.
He has already put a spanner in the title works by leading Spurs to a 3-2 victory over Manchester City in February. He’s now supervised two draws against Liverpool, and the north London club is unbeaten in four league meetings against Europe’s two best teams.
At the last whistle, there was an air of anti-climax surrounding Anfield. The home fans’ demeanor was reasonable given that the game began with a sense of jubilation following Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal victory against Real Madrid in Paris.
It had been a game of who will blink first between Liverpool and City for some weeks, and it was Jurgen Klopp’s side that dropped points – although this was due as much to Spurs’ superiority as it was to a rare night when they did not reach their customary heights.
In the grand scheme of things, it was a poor result for both teams, as City have the chance to strengthen their position and return to the top of the table against Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on Sunday, while Arsenal can assert their authority in the race for the top four at home against struggling Leeds United. Arsenal are now in fourth place, one point ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, who have played one game more.
Spurs, on the other hand, will be content with a point at Anfield, where Liverpool is such a formidable opponent. Spurs’ performance should instill great confidence in their ability to achieve their goals if they keep Conte.
Liverpool were not at their best later on and appeared fatigued, with the predicted surge in front of the Kop failing to materialize after Luis Diaz leveled Son Heung-min’s opener with 16 minutes remaining.
Spurs had the best chance in the dying seconds when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg failed to recognize how much time and space he had in front of the exposed Alisson Becker, doing nothing when confronted with the decision of heading on goal or finding the unmarked Harry Kane.
Klopp was unable to give his typical post-match fist pump in front of the home fans, but he will be aware that the title race is far from over. The emphasis is now on City to take advantage of the window of opportunity that Liverpool has created for them.
Spurs’ need to back Conte and keep him in north London was highlighted by the way he organized his team to complete their Anfield job with intense discipline, defensive bravery, streetwise game management, and a genuine counter-attack danger.
Conte demonstrated once again that he is a man with a plan and the ability to get his players to follow it to the letter with a full week to prepare for what is perhaps football’s most difficult challenge at the moment.
It takes something exceptional to break down Liverpool’s defense, and after 56 minutes, a sweeping move including Kane, Ryan Sessegnon, and scorer Son did just it.
Conte’s future at Spurs is still up in the air, and there’s no doubt he’ll need considerable backing from chairman Daniel Levy to keep him happy.
The simple fact is that Spurs will not find a better manager than the Italian, a world-class manager who would be wanted by any big football power looking for a coach or manager – with the exception of Manchester United, who strangely decided this highly motivated winner was not for them.
Yes, Antonio Conte is unquestionably high maintenance – as his former clubs would attest – but he has proven himself at the greatest level, and Spurs may realize he simply wants what they and their fans want, which is a success.
Liverpool are currently on a roll, with outings in the FA Cup final and the Champions League final both coming up in the next three weeks and three games remaining in the title chase.
City may be in a better position, but this outcome shows that there are still twists and turns to come, and Guardiola’s side must show they have recovered from the trauma of letting a Champions League final spot slip away from them at the Bernabeu.
Liverpool will not leave the Premier League on the back of a single draw; it is now up to Manchester City.