Roy Keane once described an iconic Sir Alex Ferguson team talk in which the former Manchester United manager dismissed the threat of their opponents in three words.
‘We all know what Tottenham are about. They are nice and tidy but we’ll f****** do them. He came in and said, “Lads, it’s Tottenham”, and that was it. Brilliant.’
Antonio Conte doesn’t like it when his team comes across as nice. ‘Conte-ball’ isn’t designed for that. This fiery manager prefers it when his players are nasty.
‘Good nasty’ was how Conte described it on Saturday and the Italian said that was the greatest factor in Tottenham turning a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win.
Their football was negative in the first half. It was safe, stale, stodgy. It was polite play. Too many sideways passes and not enough forward thinking, one of their few chances ending with an Emerson Royal shot flying over the Steve Fletcher Stand and prompting Tottenham’s own supporters to sing: ‘What the f****** hell was that?’
It was nothing like a top-four team should be playing at Bournemouth, with all due respect to Gary O’Neil’s side.
The second half was different. They won their duels. They created chances. Lucas Moura was introduced and had an immediate impact, even wrestling with a ball-boy in his desire to get the game going again.
It was then that Tottenham started to resemble a competitive team. They went after Bournemouth, scoring three times to secure a much-needed win after back-to-back Premier League defeats by Manchester United and Newcastle.
That second-half mentality will be needed from the start in Marseille tomorrow. Tottenham need to be nasty, uncompromising, unwilling to be second best and confident with the ball. Conte has described that Champions League tie as a final, as defeat would result in them exiting Europe’s elite competition.
‘I asked my players to show more personality, to take more responsibility,’ Conte said of his half-time team talk. ‘In the second half, despite conceding the second goal, we started to play nasty, with the desire, with the will to hurt the opponent.
‘It was great to see the desire of my players, the reaction they had. They were nasty. Good nasty. I could see in their eyes that they decided to win this game.
‘Now this win has to give us enthusiasm and passion to go into Marseille and play a final.’
Conte tweaked his team for Bournemouth with Marseille in mind. There was no Rodrigo Bentancur and no Eric Dier in the starting line-up, the latter being benched for the first time this season. They were brought on in the second half, along with Ivan Perisic, and all three substitutes had a significant say in the turnaround.
Nine of Tottenham’s 26 goals this season have come from corners, the most from any Premier League side. They’ve turned into the corner kings with the help of set-piece coach Gianni Vio.
The majority of their corners have been in-swingers, as they were on Saturday to devastating effect. Perisic’s led to a Ben Davies header for 2-2 in the 73rd minute, then Son Heung-min’s led to Bentancur making it 3-2 in stoppage time.
Bournemouth were bitterly disappointed by this defeat. O’Neil’s team took advantage of Tottenham’s initial softness, with Kieffer Moore scoring twice to give them a two-goal lead.
Moore’s finish for his first was excellently executed and he bullied Emerson to head home his second.
But as Conte said, Tottenham felt the comeback was inevitable once they got the bit between their teeth. Now they need to take this mentality to Marseille.