MATT BARLOW: Antonio Conte sits it out as Tottenham fight to stay among the elite in Marseille... can Spurs take the step from a club pleased to be knocking around at this level to one who behave as if they belong?

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If Antonio Conte is still searching for proof that his Tottenham team is maturing into one capable of handling the big occasion and delivering a passing impression of the European elite then he can expect answers in Marseille.

Can they find closure on the heartache of last week? When they thought they had qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League only for the VAR to rule out what would have been a stoppage time winner by Harry Kane against Sporting Lisbon.

Now they have to do it again. This time in the Stade Velodrome, where Marseille boss Igor Tudor promised passion and intensity despite the notoriously hostile 12,000 capacity Virage Nord standing empty as punishment from UEFA for previous misdemeanours by their fans.

Antonio Conte will miss Tottenham's Champions League game in Marseille following red card

Antonio Conte will miss Tottenham's Champions League game in Marseille following red card

Antonio Conte will miss Tottenham's Champions League game in Marseille following red card

This time they will have to land the result without the touchline micro-management of Conte, who may even learn something about himself as he watches a crucial fixture unfold from afar, banned by UEFA from making direct contact with his players due to the red card he received for his furious reaction to the Kane goal that never was.

'Better for us,' nodded Tudor, a teammate of Conte's in their playing days at Juventus and who knows perfectly well just how hard it will be for the Spurs boss to remain in the confines of his seat in the stands.

When banned from the touchline during his time at Inter Milan, Conte was spotted reaching across, grabbing the wires and shouting into the microphone on the headset used by his brother Gianluca to communicate with their colleagues on the bench.

'For sure, I don't like this type of experience and I hope it will be the last one,' said Conte, last week, but he was no mood to field questions in Marseille as he approached his first anniversary in the job.

Assistant Cristian Stellini was put out to answer questions at Monday's pre-match conference

Assistant Cristian Stellini was put out to answer questions at Monday's pre-match conference

Instead sending his loyal assistant Cristian Stellini was on parade with midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for the pre-match press conference.

The Conte brothers will be together again in the Stade Velodrome. The manager's last contact with his players will be on the team bus. Then he is not allowed to talk to them directly until at least 15 minutes after the final whistle.

'It changes a lot,' said Stellini. 'It's a totally different world. The presence of a coach like Conte is indispensable, especially in a match like this, tense until the final whistle. Luckily, I am not alone.'

Tottenham will be without Cristian Romero, Dejan Kulusevski and Richarlison, who are all injured but one point is enough to take them through.

And enough to be marked a success for Conte, who arrived this time last year to find them wallowing in the UEFA Conference League and well off the pace in the Premier League.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg said Spurs were determined to qualify after late heartbreak last week

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg said Spurs were determined to qualify after late heartbreak last week

Results are improved and Champions League status restored but the finer psychological details are uppermost in Conte's mind, just as they often were with Mauricio Pochettino. Can Spurs take the step from a club pleased to be knocking around at this level to a club who behave as if they belong? Can his players take responsibility on a stage such as this?

Victory will see them top Group D and advance into Monday's draw as a seeded team, with dreams of the last eight and the significant windfall that brings. Defeat, however, will plunge them into the less rewarding and logistically troublesome Europa League.

Their overseas form is not encouraging. In this Champions League campaign, they have lost in Lisbon and drawn in Frankfurt without scoring a goal. Last season, amid the relative minnows of the Conference, they lost three and drew one of four away games.

In the previous season, they crashed out of the Europa League losing 3-0 at Dinamo Zagreb, on a night marking the beginning of the end of Jose Mourinho's tenure.

Spurs have not won abroad in seven competitive games since Wolfsberger in Austria, in February 2021, and defeat here would turn scrutiny not only on the players but also on Conte's personal record in the Champions League.

Conte's sixth Champions League campaign will end if Spurs are eliminated on Tuesday night

Conte's sixth Champions League campaign will end if Spurs are eliminated on Tuesday night

This is his sixth campaign in the competition as a manager. Three times eliminated at the group stage. Once, at Chelsea, out in the last 16. Once at Juventus, a decade ago, his team reached the last eight.

'Even if he has not done well historically in this competition, he remains one of the best in the world,' said Stellini.

Conte's poor record is one reason some observers in Italy do not expect Juve president Andrea Agnelli to try tempting him back to Turin for a second spell in charge of the Old Lady, at the end of this season.

Perversely, it might help Tottenham keep him if they go out but no-one has travelled to the South of France for failure.

'Our ambition is to go through,' said Hojbjerg. 'This is the number one. The key and ambition is to go to the knock-out stages in the Champions League and this is what we are playing for.'

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