While Tottenham have gained one of Serie A’s finest, they have lost the services of another. Antonio Conte, Inter’s Scudetto-winning manager, will be without Cristian Romero, who was voted the best defender in the Italian top flight last season, after the first major setback of his reign.
The Argentine, who was sent off in Conte’s first game in charge against Vitesse Arnhem and is suspended for Thursday's clash with NS Mura, suffered a hamstring problem on international duty. “We're waiting for another scan,” said Conte. “Honestly, I think his injury is serious. I don't know now the time he needs to recover.”
As this is the first of 12 matches in 38 days, it means Spurs are set to be without the centre-back for perhaps the busiest stretch of their season.
Conte was expected to be given money to spend in the winter transfer window even before Romero was sidelined but he claimed: “In this moment I am not thinking about January because there is still a long way to go.” But Romero was likely to be one of Conte’s pivotal players. He flourished for Atalanta in a back three, a system the Italian has introduced with Tottenham.
Conte’s determination to get an understanding of his demands among his new charges has meant he has only made two alterations to his starting line-up within his first three games, both enforced. Now he will rotate to have a look at others in the squad, while trying to avoid the mistake his predecessor made.
Nuno Espirito Santo left his first XI in London when Spurs travelled to Arnhem. They lost, with a second-string side performing poorly and feeling alienated, while the rested regulars were then beaten by West Ham three days later.
Conte will take a different approach, even though their Slovenian opponents are pointless in the Europa Conference League. “All the players available will come with us and they must be ready to play,” he said.
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Conte believes his famously tough training sessions have tired some of his players while others are feeling the effects of their efforts with their countries and added: “For sure I will make the rotation because personally I need to know much better the players.”
One he hopes to see more of is Ryan Sessegnon, who made his first Premier League appearance for 22 months as a substitute against Leeds on Sunday. “Ryan has great potential,” Conte said. “He’s very young with great space for improvement.”
With Ben Davies lining up in the back three, the 21-year-old looks the alternative to Sergio Reguilon in the new shape. “The formation is perfect for me,” Sessegnon said. “Left wing-back is probably where I'm most comfortable playing.”
Marginalised under Jose Mourinho, loaned out to Hoffenheim last season and hit by injuries, he added: “This could be a chance to kickstart my career. It has been stop-start since I've been at the club but never did it cross my mind that I thought I'd have to leave permanently.”
Conte is without the injured Giovani Lo Celso but there could also be opportunities for Dele Alli, who has only played two minutes in his reign, and Tanguy Ndombele, who has been limited to 23.
In contrast, Harry Kane has begun all three matches without getting his first goal under his new manager. He benefited from Conte’s arrival in a different respect when Alessandro del Piero, Juventus’ record scorer and a former teammate of the manager, visited Tottenham’s training ground this week. “We are talking about two world-class strikers,” Conte said. “It was good for Harry to see Alessandro and also Alessandro wants to see Harry.”
Kane scored a hat-trick against Mura in September and could be summoned again as Tottenham look to overhaul Group G leaders Rennes. Fail to win the pool and they face an extra round in February. “For us, this competition is important,” Conte said. “We want to take seriously this fixture and we want to go through to the next step.”