Tottenham 3 – 2 Vitesse A
Antonio Conte witnessed the size of the task he faces as Tottenham head coach on a chaotic opening night in charge as his new side resurrected their Europa Conference League aspirations with a thrilling 3-2 win over nine-man Vitesse.
Heung-Min Son (14), Lucas Moura (22) and a Jacob Rasmussen own goal (28) had put Spurs in total control, but after Rasmussen headed in from a corner to reduce the deficit (32), Matus Bero added a second for the visitors before the interval (39).
There were no goals in the second half, but three red cards ensured there was no shortage of drama as Cristian Romero was sent off for a second bookable offence (59) before Vitesse defender Danilho Doekhi (81) and goalkeeper Markus Schubert (84) received their marching orders.
The result leaves Spurs second in Group G as they leapfrogged Vitesse while Rennes’ 1-0 victory over Mura ensured the Ligue 1 club still sit in first place.
Tottenham: Lloris (8), Dier (6), Romero (5), Davies (6), Emerson (7), Skipp (6), Hojbjerg (6), Reguilon (7), Lucas Moura (7), Kane (6), Son (7).
Subs: Sanchez (6), Winks (6), Lo Celso (n/a), Ndombele (6).
Vitesse: Schubert (5), Doekhi (5), Rasmussen (6), Wittek (6), Dasa (6), Bero (7), Bazoer (7), Tronstad (6), Buitink (6), Gboho (5), Frederiksen (6).
Subs: Openda (7), Darfalou (6), Oroz (n/a) Houwen (n/a).
Man of the match: Hugo Lloris.
Conte sees the good and the bad on opening night
“I don’t like when this type of crazy game happens,” Conte said after riding a rollercoaster of emotions. “I want a stable team and when there is the possibility to kill the opponent you must kill. For sure my team showed me great commitment and resilience. For sure, this team needed to win by also suffering. It was important today.”
Nuno Espirito Santo’s ill-fated 124-day came to an end on Monday after just 17 games in charge with Tottenham 10 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea. But Spurs also entered Conte’s first game third in their Europa Conference group, three points behind leaders Rennes and two points behind their Dutch opponents.
Antonio Conte named a full-strength side for his first game as Tottenham head coach against Vitesse Arnhem in the Europa Conference League.
Conte, who replaced Nuno Espirito Santo on Tuesday, named Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Lucas Moura in the side for the third-tier European competition.
It looked like a possible 3-4-1-2 formation, with Moura in the number 10 position. Spurs need a win to boost their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages, having lost the reverse fixture in Holland a fortnight ago.
Ahead of kick-off, there was a nod to the past as Toby Alderweireld was belatedly given an official send-off by supporters as the club’s special guest. The Belgian defender joined Qatari outfit Al-Duhail in the summer but with Conte now at the helm, there was more than a lingering feeling he might have liked Alderweireld still in his ranks.
With his visa approved, the Italian went to work immediately on the myriad issues he must address. Having signed an 18-month contract at the club with an option to extend, he witnessed an immediate response.
Inside two minutes, Son raced onto a slide-rule pass from Romero but his shot beyond Markus Schubert was cleared off the line by Doekhi. With no VAR in use, Spurs were then very fortunate not to concede a penalty as Ben Davies appeared to catch Nikolai Baden Frederiksen just inside the box.
Spurs made full use of the reprieve as after Schubert denied Moura and the follow-up from Harry Kane, he was helpless to prevent Son from slotting from an acute angle.
Tottenham were in full flow and swaggered into a two-goal lead when Kane turned provider for Moura to calmly slot home following another swift attacking move as Conte expressed his delight with his coaching staff.
And the former Chelsea boss must have felt the task at hand was easy when the hosts added a third six minutes later.
There was a degree of good fortune about the goal as Davies ran onto Sergio Reguilon’s pass to fluff his shot into the ground. Kane looked to react quickest to the loose ball but the retreating Rasmussen could not halt his momentum, diverting the ball into his own net.
The incident sparked unsavoury scenes in the away end which had been simmering from the start as travelling supporters clashed with Spurs fans in the corporate section directly above them, but those involved were quickly dispersed by police presence.
Back on the pitch, and the scars of Spurs’ 3-0 defeat by Manchester United and the damaging results which put paid to Nuno’s reign still hadn’t healed. Vitesse immediately found a foothold in the game when Rasmussen atoned for his mishap by evading Eric Dier to plant a firm header beyond Hugo Lloris.
Conte was visibly irked by the softness of the concession and he was even more distraught when Spurs were punished for overplaying at the back. A slack pass from Moura was gobbled up by Yann Gboho and he squared for Bero to stroke a precise finish into the far corner.
Vitesse boss Thomas Letsch introduced Lois Openda at the break – omitted from his starting XI having been late to a team meeting – and he very nearly completed the comeback when he forced Lloris into a brilliant one-handed save from his rising shot nine minutes after the restart.
Vitesse had never beaten an English club in a UEFA competition, or even scored a goal against them, until their victory over Tottenham in October – but they sensed the chance of a famous turnaround when Romero was sent off for a second bookable offence by referee Marco Di Bello after he tugged back the lively Openda.
It made for a nervy final half an hour as Conte switched to a back four. Tottenham were clinging on when Riechedly Bazoer forced Lloris into another stupendous save from distance as Conte made a triple change, summoning Davinson Sanchez, Harry Winks and Tanguy Ndombele.
The momentum swung Tottenham’s way, however, when Doekhi joined Romero in seeing red after wrestling Kane to the ground for his second booking, and referee Di Bello was not finished there as goalkeeper Schubert was shown a straight red card when he raced from his line to save from Emerson Royal when outside of his box.
Giovani Lo Celso really ought to have added a late fourth when released by fellow substitute Winks and while his shot was deflected agonisingly wide, Spurs had their victory.
Ironically, Jose Mourinho’s opening home league game also saw his side cling onto a 3-2 win having been pegged back by Bournemouth in November 2019, but supporters hope that is where the similarities will end.
Tottenham might have been eliminated had they lost to the Eredivisie outfit for a second time in a fortnight, and while Europe’s third cup competition has been derided in some quarters, lifting the trophy in Tirana next May will already be in serial winner Conte’s thoughts.
For a start it’s an automatic ticket into the Europa League, and it would simultaneously end the club’s wait for silverware, which will extend into a 14th year. Conte shook hands with supporters as he headed down the tunnel in the knowledge he may not secure a more hard-fought victory, whatever happens in the remainder of his reign.
What the managers said..
Tottenham boss Antonio Conte on BT Sport: “It was a crazy game, usually I don’t like this types of games, the crazy game means anything can happen. But at the same time I think we should win, and we won. For sure we were winning at 3-0 and then they scored two goals that we can avoid.
“Then after our red card, we were in trouble, but I think to win suffering is good for this team, for these players, and they needed to improve their confidence. I think they needed to work a lot, and we have to find the time to work. But now it is international break.
“Tonight they wanted to win, and for this season we won. For sure we have to improve, and I think that this is a positive thing. In my opinion there is a lot of space for improvement for this team, in every single player.
2 – Spurs’ win over Vitesse featured five goals and three red cards; just the second time this has happened in a game in major European competition this century, along with Braga 4-1 Fenerbahçe in the UEFA Europa League in 2016. Mayhem. pic.twitter.com/HLHeYPJY0P
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 4, 2021
“It’s not easy because in two days we prepare for this game against Everton. It’s only one day because I think tomorrow it’s impossible to work with the players that played tonight, because they used a lot of energy.
“We need to have a bit of patience because we need to work on many aspects – tactically and physically, and I ask for the players to understand what I want.
“But I am not afraid about the work. Because in my life I know only through work you can reach important target.”
Vitesse boss Thomas Letsch: “The feeling is something between disappointment and pride as I feel we did a really good game. We started the game really fast and forced them to make mistakes but then in three situations we weren’t good enough and we saw Spurs’ quality. But I really liked the way we came back.
“In the second half, it doesn’t matter if it was 10 against 11, I thought we dominated and as Vitesse in this stadium you can be proud of that. Ultimately we are disappointed as we lost the game.”
Analysis: Is Conte’s Spurs squad actually any good?
Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium:
This was a quite bonkers night in which neither side wanted to defend, and then neither wished to keep their discipline.
In some ways, it was very unlike what you’ve come to expect from Conte, who went strong for his first game in charge, aware of what was stake in this competition, irrespective of being keen to make a first good impression.
For the opening 30 minutes he must have thought this was a very simple job in reinvigorating Tottenham. Three unanswered goals had Vitesse reeling as they couldn’t cope with Spurs’ swift transitions down both flanks. Ben Davies and Cristian Romero were carrying the ball out from defence and Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg were controlling midfield.
And then, it all unravelled, reminding Conte of the size of the task ahead. Eric Dier was beaten far too easily at the set play for the Dutch side’s first reply and when Lucas Moura was caught trying to be too elaborate playing out from the back, it would seem too simplistic to say the state of Spurs’ implosion was down to a lingering lack of confidence.
But those insecurities which plagued the tail end of Nuno Espirito Santo’s tenure certainly then came roaring back as Conte grew increasingly agitated on the touchline. Romero’s red card added to the sense of angst and Spurs were in the end indebted to Hugo Lloris’ brilliance on two occasions before Vitesse lost their cool.
It was some start to the new era, and question marks remain over just how good the players are at Conte’s disposal, but Tottenham fans won’t mind if they always end up winning under their vibrant new head coach.
Tottenham visit Goodison Park to face Everton on Sunday in the Premier League; kick-off 2pm. Spurs return to Europa Conference League action on Thursday November 25 when they visit NS Mura; kick-off 5.45pm.
When are the Europa Conference League group stage games?
Matchday 5: November 25 2021
Matchday 6: December 9 2021
February 17 & 24 2022: Knockout round play-offs
March 10 & 17 2022: Round of 16
April 7 & 14 2022: Quarter-finals
April 28 & May 5 2022: Semi-finals
May 25 2022: Final (National Arena, Tirana)