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London Evening Standard - 2021-11-25

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Conte avoids Nuno trap as he takes strongest squad for key tie

Sport

NS MURA v TOTTENHAM

(5.45pm, BT Sport) Malik Ouzia WHEN Tottenham found themselves stumbling into the inaugural edition of UEFA’s much-derided third-tier club competition, one might have fancied that, come the fifth game of the group stage, qualification would be in the bag and a second string side would be on the plane to whichever corner of Europe the fixture list had dictated. Fast forward a few months to the draw, and an early evening meeting with little-known NS Mura in the unfamiliar Slovenian city of Maribor was exactly the kind of tie that had rival fans guffawing, Spurs’s participation in the Europa Conference League cast somewhere between inconvenience and ignominy. But, as it arrives, disappointing results against Rennes and Vitesse Arnhem mean a win tonight is not only an expectation but a necessity if Spurs are to keep their hopes of topping the group — and therefore qualifying directly for the last 16 — on track. Despite a brief scare in the reverse fixture, Tottenham will be confident of sweeping past the Group G minnows. But a small sense of jeopardy is only part of the reason why Antonio Conte (left in training yesterday) has broken with his predecessor in taking every one of his available first-team players across the Alps. Most obvious is that while Nuno Espirito Santo’s two-team policy and, in particular, the decision to leave his first XI at home for the trip to Arnhem was divisive and unpopular, Conte is clearly loathe to surrender any precious time with his squad as he looks to impress his ideas mid-season. While Conte has promised changes from the team that started that game, he has framed rotation as an opportunity with places still up for grabs, rather than a thankless undertaking for a cast of understudies unlikely to force their way into the main production. And then there is the old adage about momentum being easily lost but tricky to regain. This fixture is followed by games against Burnley, Brentford and Norwich, a kind run which represents a glorious chance for the Conte revolution to gather steam. Longer term, Conte knows the importance of ending Spurs’s trophy drought, and this competition represents his best chance of doing so to take added impetus into a summer in which Daniel Levy hinted this week that the new manager will be backed, despite the club’s financial difficulties. SPURS (3-4-2-): Gollini; Sanchez, Dier, Rodon; Doherty, Skipp, Ndombele, Sessegnon; Bergwijn, Dele; Kane

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