Antonio Conte has admitted Tottenham faces a fight to finish in the top four of the Premier League after a costly mistake by Hugo Lloris doomed the north Londoners to a painful 2-0 defeat against Aston Villa on Sunday.
Playing for the first time since France’s defeat in the World Cup final against Argentina, Tottenham goalkeeper Lloris weakly spilled Douglas Luiz’s shot early in the second half and Emiliano Buendía pounced to put Villa down. in front.
Lloris was left on the bench for Tottenham’s draw against Brentford on December 26 while resting after France’s agonizing final defeat in Qatar.
The 36-year-old, who conceded three goals against Argentina before France lost on penalties, could have wished he had more time to recover after his mistake against Villa.
Brazilian midfielder Luiz added Villa’s second goal in the closing stages, leaving Conte’s side enduring taunts from frustrated fans at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Tottenham hoped the Premier League opener of 2023 would serve to boost their bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top-four finish.
Instead, they suffered a New Year’s hangover as mid-table Villa punished a lethargic display.
Fifth-placed Tottenham have failed to win either of their two games since the World Cup break, a drop in form that has allowed fourth-placed Manchester United to climb two points above them.
“We understand very well that the league will be very difficult for us,” Conte said.
“I want to be honest, I want to be very clear. I have told this to the club, I have stated my opinions.
“The fans deserve the best. Perhaps staying in 5th is the best. Maybe 6, 7, 5 or 4 is the best.”
Stating that Tottenham lacks the creative quality to break down defensive opponents like Villa, Conte said: “We found a team that was defending too deep and then we conceded the first goal.
“I am sure that if we don’t concede the goal, we can win the game. The goal we conceded killed our confidence.
“We don’t have many players who are really good at beating the man. We don’t have many creative players on our team.”
– Impacted spurs –
Adding insult to injury for Tottenham, it was former Arsenal boss Unai Emery who masterminded Villa’s success on his return to north London.
Villa manager Emery, sacked by Arsenal in 2019, has now won three of his four Premier League games since taking over from the sacked Steven Gerrard in November.
No player has scored more Premier League goals on New Year’s Day than Harry Kane’s five.
But the Tottenham striker was denied another earlier in the year when he headed Ivan Perisic’s cross towards goal, only to see Ashley Young clear the line with a nimble diving header.
Although Tottenham dominated possession for long periods, they were unable to break through.
Villa hit them with a punch five minutes after half time when Lloris’s mistake allowed the visitors to take the lead.
Luiz’s long-range shot wasn’t powerful enough to beat Lloris, but the goalkeeper couldn’t stop it and Ollie Watkins pounced on the loose ball and passed it to Buendía, who struck from 10 meters.
It was the seventh consecutive Premier League game in which Tottenham had conceded the first goal.
Perisic failed to convert a golden opportunity to equalize when he shot over Son’s free kick, while Kane missed a decent opportunity from inside the box.
Pardoned for those errors, Villa delivered the coup de grace in the 73rd minute.
John McGinn’s excellent pass split the Tottenham defense and Luiz took a touch before guiding a clinical finish past Lloris.