Antonio Conte was delighted with Tottenham’s style during their 4-1 win over Southampton on opening day and warned his new signings that they must fight to earn a place in his starting lineup.
A busy summer for Spurs, bringing in six players, heightened the optimism and excitement around N17 before kick-off, but James Ward-Prowse’s 12th-minute opener for the visitors threatened to spoil the mood.
Instead, it kicked the hosts into gear with Dejan Kulusevski in imperious form and it was his cross that enabled Ryan Sessegnon to head the tying run. Eric Dier made it 2-1 before half time and Kulusevski rounded off the score with a brilliant fourth two minutes after Mohammed Salisu’s own goal.
Spurs boss Conte said: “The reaction was really good because we kept calm, we kept playing the way we know, to believe in what we tried earlier this week before playing Southampton.
“We won three important points, but the most important was the way we got three points, with very good football, with the ball, without the ball, with important pressure, also the way we decided to win the ball after we lost had another important aspect.
“We have been working on implementing football knowledge over the past season. Today we have certainly seen that this team has had seven months of work.”
Sessegnon finished the 2021-22 season strong but has competition for his spot in the form of Ivan Perisic and yet he rose to the challenge with a fine effort in the 21st minute, just his second goal for Spurs since a Fulham transfer three with a lot of money summers ago.
Injuries have devastated the England Under-21 international in recent seasons, but Conte believes he is poised to carry on and was pleased with his goal after failing to bet in a similar situation minutes earlier.
“Maybe five minutes before there was a cross and he was behind his opponent. We were really mad at him on the bench,” the Italian joked.
“After three minutes he scored and we were happy and celebrating a lot because five minutes earlier he was not in the same spot to score.
“Today he scored another goal, he was always in our attacking position and that was good. I’m happy for him because he has great potential, but has to show this potential.
“We give him stability in the physical aspect. I think it’s very important that we brought in a player like Ivan because he can see the way to learn about Ivan.”
Perisic was one of five new signings to settle for a spot on the bench and as the Croat made his debut as a substitute alongside Clement Lenglet and Yves Bissouma, Conte warned summer recruits they have work to do to oust the old guard . .
He added: “I think I’m using common sense because right now we’re starting the new season and the old players did a great job last season to secure a place in the Champions League.
“In the last 10 games I think we have played very well and achieved fantastic results. My message was very clear that I have a lot of confidence in the old players and at the moment they are more reliable than the new players because they have to keep working with us and continue to apply football knowledge.
“With the old players I am a step forward. For this reason I prefer to count on the older players at the start, but I think it was right after this game and the end result.
“At the same time, I’m very happy because we have new signings coming into our process and they will certainly help us improve, but they need to know that they have to fight.”
Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl had to reflect on a frustrating afternoon in the capital despite a strong start.
“It kind of felt like the opponent shifted into the next gear and we can’t follow,” he said.
“It was frustrating to see how big the gap between the two teams is. After the first goal we felt like they were absolutely in the game and they crushed us with their crosses and we couldn’t defend.”