MATT BARLOW: Antonio Conte faces a huge conundrum at Tottenham after reaching the Champions League last-16... the Italian is getting the job done but needs a ball of energy like he had with N'Golo Kante to unleash his side's flair

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Harry Kane was buoyant as he left France. Singing and dancing in the dressing room, teasing Marseille fans about fireworks and declaring this first phase of Tottenham’s campaign to be three wins from a resounding success.

‘It was really important just before the World Cup,’ beamed Kane, as he reflected on a comeback victory in the hostile Stade Velodrome to put Spurs into the Champions League last 16.

‘If we’d gone out, it would have been a real sting because you know you’re coming back from the World Cup and playing Europa League and it’s just not the same feeling, so that was really vital.

Antonio Conte faces a big conundrum at Tottenham despite continuing to get the job done

Antonio Conte faces a big conundrum at Tottenham despite continuing to get the job done

Antonio Conte faces a big conundrum at Tottenham despite continuing to get the job done

‘We’ve got three games before the World Cup and hopefully we can finish strongly and if we can be there or thereabouts in the Premier League and get through in the Carabao Cup, it’ll be a really good start to the season.’

Kane deserves his place in Europe’s elite competition. He was outstanding in the second half in Marseille, always an outlet on the counter-attack, holding the ball, winning free-kicks, hauling his team up the field and releasing Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for the 95th-minute winner.

He has every right to have a spring in his step, although others are much less equivocal about the state of play after one year of Antonio Conte. Having cast himself as the quick fix super-coach with the salary to match, Conte invites the pressure to turn Spurs into title winners at the flick of a switch.

The early progress was clear enough. Back into the Champions League and locked into the top four through the opening three months of this season. Still in all competitions.

But winning is not enough for some people when they see others winning with style, a common trend among those charged with fuelling fresh debate and quickening the cycle of change to satisfy the easily bored.

Tottenham are still in the race for top four and finished as winners of Group D on Tuesday

Tottenham are still in the race for top four and finished as winners of Group D on Tuesday

Little wonder fans are torn. Some look positively at the scope for improvement. Others look fearfully at last-gasp salvage operations required to squeeze wins against teams as unexceptional as Marseille and Bournemouth. 

Conte remains a hostage to his instant success at Chelsea, where he tweaked formation and turned them into champions. He is supposed to flick the same switch and deliver a prize Spurs have not seen since 1961.

Chelsea had won the Premier League title little more than a year before he turned up. They were, in fact, serial winners. Up front, Eden Hazard, the best forward in the country, and Diego Costa. In goal, Thibaut Courtois. They had John Terry in the dressing room.

The key, however, was N’Golo Kante, master of the midfield turnover, able to win the ball cleanly in all areas of the pitch, find a team-mate with a forward pass, and unleash Hazard. All in a matter of seconds.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (centre) scored a 95th-minute winner to send Spurs through

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (centre) scored a 95th-minute winner to send Spurs through

Spurs have squeezed wins against teams as unexceptional as Marseille and Bournemouth

Spurs have squeezed wins against teams as unexceptional as Marseille and Bournemouth

He was a perfect weapon for a natural counter-attacker like Conte, as he had been for Claudio Ranieri at Leicester.

The quality of players at Conte’s disposal is easily forgotten because he converted Victor Moses into a decent wing-back, and the general quality of the Premier League is higher now than it was then, forced up by the investment of Manchester City and Liverpool.

Spurs have Kane and Son Heung-min but there is no peak-Kante equivalent. Nor is there any recent history of success so perhaps we should cut him some slack if he says he needs to build this team and instil a winning mentality.

When Chelsea won the Premier League under Conte, N'Golo Kante was the key

When Chelsea won the Premier League under Conte, N'Golo Kante was the key

Kante was the master of the midfield turnover and what made Chelsea tick under the Italian

Kante was the master of the midfield turnover and what made Chelsea tick under the Italian

They could, though, misfire as this work evolves, and his tactical experiments to protect his team’s vulnerabilities might not always work against strong opponents.

The loss of Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski, who has not played since mid-September, has not helped. And adding to Conte’s woes, Son will undergo surgery on his cheekbone after taking a heavy blow on Tuesday. 

‘We’ve got to find a balance between dropping and pressing,’ said Kane, post- Marseille. ‘At the moment, we’re just dropping and sitting too deep. In the second half, we went man for man and took a bit more risk.

‘We need to just find a little more patience when we are dropping, and then be able to get out of that deep block and press. Which is what we try to do but we’re just not quite executing it well enough.’

Son Heung-min will undergo surgery on his cheekbone after taking a heavy blow on Tuesday

Son Heung-min will undergo surgery on his cheekbone after taking a heavy blow on Tuesday 

In Marseille, the strategy was to invite the home side to attack, burn them out and then try to pick them off on the break as they tired. The first half was awful to watch and Tottenham rode their luck but they emerged triumphant and buoyant as they ended a seven-game winless run away in Europe.

Conte’s style of football will never satisfy the purest of Tottenham’s purists, but if he strikes the balance he is looking for, his side will be fast, intense and exciting, with plenty of goals and a competitive edge.

It is worth backing the fact he knows what he is doing.

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