Conte vindicated by Tottenham’s Newcastle shambles as Levy issues grow

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Axed Tottenham manager Antonio Conte forewarned the issues that would come with switching to a back-four in January, but stand-in boss Cristian Stellini pressed ahead with the tactical tweak regardless, resulting in a heavy defeat for Harry Kane and co against Newcastle United that is set to complicate matters for chairman Daniel Levy.

Spurs fielded a back-five for practically the whole of Conte’s reign, which was brought to an end by the club last month. Interim manager Stellini initially opted to stick with the Italian’s philosophy, much to the frustration of supporters, who wanted to see something new after months of stale football.

Results failed to pick up as Stellini oversaw a win, a draw and a damning defeat at home to Bournemouth in his first three matches. An injury to centre-back Clement Lenglet also persuaded him to switch things up against the Magpies, and some fans were optimistic when the team sheet revealed only four defenders.

However, the mood soured in double-quick time as Newcastle raced into a three-goal lead and kept their foot on the gas throughout the first-half, heading into the break 5-0 up.

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A goal each in the second period created an emphatic 6-1 scoreline, and Stellini faced reporters red-faced after the final whistle, when he took full responsibility for the failed formation change.

Despite leaving north London as a broadly unpopular figure, Conte was proven spot on by the debacle after being asked in January whether he would consider playing a back-four. “The characteristics of the players was not so good to play a back four,” he explained.

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“In the future, probably we can try to change. But if we lose, I’m justified!” Having placed Stellini in temporary charge until the end of the season, the past few weeks have brought fresh heat onto Levy, whose hunt for Conte’s permanent successor will only have been made more complicated by Sunday’s drubbing at St James’ Park.

It now appears unlikely that Levy will be able to offer a prospective new manager Champions League football next season, with Spurs six points behind fourth-placed Manchester United, who are in better form and have a game in hand.

Julian Nagelsmann is considered the favourite for the hotseat after being sacked by Bayern Munich earlier this season. The 35-year-old also has admirers at Chelsea, but he is reportedly no longer in contention after the Blues’ due diligence returned mixed reviews.

Vincent Kompany is another popular candidate after earning promotion to the Premier League in his first season as Burnley boss, while Arne Slot is also a manager in demand as Feyenoord power towards the Eredivisie title.

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