Conte closes dark chapter as Tottenham maximise Champions League advantage over Arsenal

Matt Stead
Heung-min Son embraces Antonio Conte

Burnley sent Antonio Conte into an existential crisis after their last meeting but Tottenham have grown since and earned a controversial win.


Antonio Conte rarely enjoys playing against Burnley. His first meeting with the Clarets was an exception to a general rule of struggle, strife and even existential crisis. After a 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge in August 2016, the Italian toiled through a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor the following February, accused his players of “losing their heads” in an opening day defeat to Sean Dyche’s side the next season and scrambled a 2-1 away win the subsequent April. It culminated in Conte contemplating his life choices after a visit to Lancashire three months ago.

“I came in to try to improve the situation but maybe in this moment, I don’t know. I’m not so good to improve it,” he said. Adding that “this club changes the coaches but the players are always the same” and “I could just take my salary but I’m too honest,” Tottenham were in disarray.

In a league table of results since that crushing setback inspired by Ben Mee’s second-half winner, Tottenham are the leaders and highest scorers. Manchester City and Liverpool have both played three fewer games and amassed only three fewer points but there can be no doubt as to Conte’s influence and ability to close the canyon that exists between the title contenders and their distant chasing pack.

This was a result and performance every inch as fraught as that February defeat. Burnley are fluent in only one language but Collins’ dictionary has an impressive range. Centre-half Nathan was signed from Stoke last June and he already looks capable of navigating blustery midweek evenings in the winter as well as bright summer afternoons against two of Europe’s finest forward. He epitomised a battling display from the visitors, blocking every shot, clearing every loose ball and winning every header. But Collins also excelled on the ball, his passing creating chances for Maxwel Cornet and Ashley Barnes.

Hugo Lloris saved the first and watched the second rebound off his post. This was no commanding win for Tottenham. But it was a necessary one which lifts them, even if only temporarily, into fourth.

They had their moments, one phenomenal move carving through Burnley and securing safe but rare passage into the penalty area, but Nick Pope was equal to Heung-min Son’s effort from a Ryan Sessegnon cutback. The same combination resulted in a similar outcome a little later, the Clarets keeper batting a shot shot away with his bicep. The cameras cut away before he could presumably be seen turning to the fans, cupping his ears and telling them to say their prayers and eat their vitamins, brother.

It is a shame that those flashpoints will naturally be dominated about refereeing discourse. The FA’s inexplicable but absolutely definitely real anti-Arsenal conspiracy continued with the award of the decisive penalty. It was the correct decision by law but penalising Ashley Barnes for having arms, being pushed and vaguely brushing a ball Davinson Sanchez had shinned in his general direction, with pretty much every player facing in the opposite direction to goal and only Sanchez really bothering to slightly protest, and giving the actual Harry Kane a free shot from 12 yards as punishment, will always feel like a disproportionate punishment to a minor and technical infraction.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane celebrates his goal

That came at the end of a first half in which Tottenham were frustrated and foiled at every turn. They might have discovered an independent breakthrough otherwise but passes were being misplaced, supporter anxiety was notably increasing and there was a touch of that February meeting in the atmosphere.

Nothing else in this team resembles that one. Conte bombed onto the pitch at full-time to embrace each of those players he previously suggested had let a slew of coaches before him down. An advantage earned over Arsenal in midweek was built upon instead of squandered. A dark chapter in the manager and team’s potentially mutually advantageous relationship was closed. Never again should he doubt whether that salary is being earned: Emerson Royal was given a sodding standing ovation when he was substituted.