Tottenham coach Nuno Espirito Santo insists he has the backing of his players despite mounting scrutiny over their recent form.

Spurs made an excellent start to life under their new head coach, winning four of their first five games in all competitions while conceding just one goal.

Their recent form has taken a dramatic turn for the worse, however. Consecutive 3-0 Premier League defeats to Crystal Palace and Chelsea came as they also drew 2-2 with Rennes and Wolves in the Europa Conference League and EFL Cup.

Last weekend, Tottenham suffered a humbling 3-1 loss to north London rivals Arsenal, a result made all the more eye-catching given it came just under a month after top-flight history was made when Spurs ended the day top of the table while the Gunners were at the bottom.

Such has been the reversal of their fortunes – only Everton in 1993-94 have ever won their opening three Premier League games of a season only to lose the next three – that doubts are already being cast over Nuno's future.

However, the former Wolves boss says the players believe in his methods and that criticism does not concern him.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's game against Mura, he said: "Yeah, [they] totally believe. There are no doubts about that because we work together every day, we prepare together and these moments we need to stick together and the belief is the first step to do things, and we have it.

 

"You have to realise sometimes it's not possible. Sometimes opponents are better than you, and you have to be humble to give credit, and sometimes you don't perform. Sometimes the plan is no good. The belief in all of us is here.

"I'm not worried about the judgements. What I'm worried about is how we can play better. The judgement and the criticism and the opinion and all of that is all part of it. And we have to deal with that.

"That doesn't interfere with the way we work, it can only distract us. I'm very simple, telling you: my focus is how can we improve, how can we improve. In terms of the fans, now is not the moment to ask them. Of course, we need their support, because the players and the team need the support of the fans. But it's not the moment to ask them, it's the moment to deliver.

"We don't panic because we know that this is football. It's how you react to the bad moments. It's something that you cannot avoid. Every team goes through a moment like this. History shows that. Sticking together is the only way to do it."

Nuno believes Spurs' three consecutive wins at the start of the season disguised the fact he is still getting used to working with his squad.

"Since day one, we are knowing each other better, we are realising our strengths and weaknesses, so we can improve. The moment that we were winning was only disguising to the outside," he said.

"Inside, we knew we still had things to improve. Now it's obvious that we have things to improve. In terms of what I'm seeing, I'm seeing players that want to achieve, that work hard to achieve it, but we are not able to be consistent to do it.

"We are still having problems when we concede a goal. We lose our focus. We lose our solidity and how compact we are and that we must avoid. So, a lot of analysis is going on. A lot, but with the tools and the belief that we have a talented team with quality players to get out of this situation and play much better football."

Harry Kane will join Tottenham's main training group ahead of the Premier League clash against Wolves as speculation continues over his future, said Nuno Espirito Santo.

Kane reportedly wants to leave for Premier League champions Manchester City and the star forward was absent from Tottenham's shock 1-0 first-leg loss to Pacos de Ferreira in the Europa Conference League on Thursday.

The England international remained in England to build up his fitness and head coach Nuno confirmed Kane will link up with the main group on Friday ahead of Sunday's trip to Wolves.

"He trained today. He trained with the group of players that stayed in England," Nuno told reporters after the Conference League defeat.

"He trained well and he is going to train tomorrow and when we return he will join all the players and work as the group and Harry in it."

Nuno made 11 changes following last Sunday's Premier League victory over City, with new signings Cristian Romero, Bryan Gil and Pierluigi Gollini in the line-up.

"I think [Pierluigi Gollini] had a good game," Nuno said. "He was stable and in the action he had to do he did well. With the goal it was a one vs one situation and it was difficult.

"[Cristian] Romero played a good game, intense and this is what we want from our defenders, to be strong in duels. I think Bryan [Gil] started well, but that's my responsibility. I think we still have to find the right position for him and give him exact tasks. In this game he changed two times his position and it's not the best way to go to improve a player.

"We need to be patient with all the players because the Premier League. When a player changes country we need to realise that we need to support him. But honestly I think with the quality and talent that Romero has his adaptation will be very fast."

Nuno Espirito Santo said Tottenham were "sad" and must find a reaction after losing 1-0 to Pacos de Ferreira in Thursday's Europa Conference League qualifying play-off.

The first-leg loss at Estadio Capital do Movel came as Nuno made 11 changes following last Sunday's Premier League victory over champions Manchester City.

Harry Kane was again not involved amid ongoing links with City, and Tottenham's second string failed to impress, although a second leg next week in London gives them a chance to repair the damage.

"Not a good performance. We lost too many passes and their goal came from that. We were unbalanced," said Spurs head coach Nuno.

"The decision was to give minutes to the players, mix players to give them minutes, but it takes time and it was not so good. Individually some players were good, but as a team, we weren't organised enough. We need to be more compact.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game and it was very complicated. It would need better decisions from us. We know we have a second leg, but we will not think about it today.

"We have to analyse this match. We have an important game in the Premier League and then we will think about the second leg."

Tottenham face Wolves at Molineux on Sunday, with Nuno looking for a major improvement against his former club.

The Spurs personnel for that game stands to be largely different, but Nuno said the positive impact of the City result had been scuppered by the loss in Portugal and he wants that back.

"Nobody wants to lose, nobody wants not to play well. The feel-good factor disappeared," Nuno said. "This is football, ups, and downs. Tomorrow we work and prepare for the other games. Football gives you a chance immediately.

"We didn't like it as a group. We are disappointed. We are sad. But we know we have to react and we will start to do that tomorrow, preparing for the next match."

Son Heung-min delivered the goods for Tottenham in the absence of Harry Kane as he sealed a 1-0 win over Premier League champions Manchester City in Nuno Espirito Santo's first match at the helm.

Kane, who has been strongly linked with a move to City, was reportedly deemed not sharp enough after only recently returning to training, but Spurs adapted well to the situation after a shaky start against a visiting side who handed a debut to British record signing Jack Grealish.

Spurs' reliance on counter-attacking football may have initially frustrated sections of the crowd at Tottenham Hotspur stadium, but it looked like the most realistic way of hurting City in the first half.

And that tactic bore fruit in the 55th minute, with Son rounding off a flowing move with a fine finish that even Kane would have been proud of, denying City the chance to set a new record of 11 successive opening-day wins in the Premier League.

Spurs looked to be in for a long day after a difficult opening that Pep Guardiola's men dominated, with Joao Cancelo and Riyad Mahrez both having presentable chances fall to them, but they weathered the early storm.

The hosts were set up to threaten on the counter and several times they looked bright bursting forward, though uncharacteristically meek play from Son twice saw encouraging moves peter out.

The South Korean looked a little more like his usual self just before the interval, though, seeing a curling effort deflected agonisingly wide by Cancelo after a rapid break.

Spurs began the second period much sharper than the first. Within five minutes of the restart, Ruben Dias had to be alert to prevent Son from having a tap-in and then Lucas Moura shot wide from 20 yards.

Son soon found his range, however, tucking a lovely effort inside the left-hand post from just outside the box after Nathan Ake failed to engage him at the end of a blistering break, setting up a fourth straight win for Spurs over City on home soil.

Spurs were pressed into defensive action in the latter stages, with Hugo Lloris becoming increasingly busy, but they held on to secure only their fifth win in 13 league games without Kane since the start of 2019-20.

What does it mean? Wasteful City need options in attack

While the £100million signing of Grealish will surely be worthy, it looks as though City are going to need more if they are to take themselves to the next level, with their inability to find the net despite their expected goals being almost double that of Spurs (1.0 v 1.8).

While Ferran Torres has occasionally done a job leading the line for City, he is not a central striker and Gabriel Jesus does not seem to have convinced Guardiola in that position either, otherwise he would surely have started.

Kane is the obvious option – perhaps after seeing this match play out, Guardiola will have renewed desire to get him in as soon as possible.

Son shines without Kane

In the past few years, a lot of the praise that has come Son's way has often related to his relationship with Kane, rather than the merits of his own quality. Although he seemed strangely subdued early on, he soon got himself on the front foot and proved a real nuisance to City, his five shots more than anyone else on the pitch, and one of those was the excellent goal.

Mendy makes a meal of defensive work

While there were a few situations early on where Benjamin Mendy's ability in attack looked useful, defensively he appeared a weak link throughout. He gifted possession back to Spurs in dangerous positions a couple of times, and was nowhere to be seen for Son's goal on the break.

What's next?

Spurs go to Pacos Ferreira for the first leg of their Conference League qualifier on Thursday before Nuno reunites with Wolves at Molineux next Sunday. City host promoted Norwich City in six days' time.

While the future of Harry Kane looks set to be the dominant talking point among Tottenham fans for the remainder of the transfer window, there does at least appear to be positive news for Spurs on the horizon regarding a potential incoming.

Granted, it's probably not going to be the kind of deal that immediately has Kane thinking, 'Hang on, this is all the proof I need that I can win trophies here'. But ambition is certainly at the root of the latest developments.

According to Sky Italia, Spurs are close to the signing of Bryan Gil for £21.6million (€25m) plus Erik Lamela. Should it go through, it's arguably one of those rare deals that actually looks like good business for all involved.

For sure, if you consider Lamela to be worth somewhere between £15-20m, it's obviously a lot of money for a player barely out of his teens, particularly when you consider the transfer could reportedly involve an extra £4.3m and a percentage of any future transfer.

But Bryan is arguably among the top three under-21 players in Spain with Ansu Fati and Pedri, and like them has already been capped by Spain. Although there's no guarantee of success, the potential is there.

Bryan Giggs?

It was in Bryan's third Segunda B game for Sevilla's second team, Sevilla Atletico, that he truly announced himself in September 2018. Although he switched between the two flanks, he was at his liveliest on the left and his abilities caused chaos for the opposition, San Fernando.

Even at the age of 17, he was clearly a cut above everyone else on the pitch, his direct yet mazy runs conjuring up images of a young Ryan Giggs as he looked to weave his through the crowds in his way.

He got the first goal, an emphatic finish from the centre of the box, drew the foul that saw a San Fernando player sent off, and then brilliantly beat his full-back before darting along the byline and cutting the ball back to set up what proved to be a 90th-minute winner.

While that game saw Bryan grab the attentions of a few more Sevilla fans, those who had worked with him before were already well-accustomed to his ability.

Sevilla have a link-up with a local school, and their football team CD Altair has seen numerous players come through their side en route to Los Nervionenses' first team. Jose Campana, Antonio Luna, Sergio Rico, Carlos Fernandez and many others have made that journey, while Carlos Alvarez – their next potential homegrown superstar – featured for the first team in a recent friendly at the age of 17.

The technical secretary of Altair, Miguel Mora Lopez, considers Bryan to be one of the two standouts.

"Altair has had a good relationship with Sevilla for many years now," Mora told Stats Perform.

"Throughout our history there are countless professional players who have passed through our ranks in their early years, but it's true that Bryan or Carlos [Alvarez] are the most outstanding so far.

"We always thought that Bryan would succeed in professional football. He was with us only one season when he was 14 years old, but we liked his game. He was creative and very incisive in attack."

 

Talented but incompatible

January 2019 saw Bryan make his first appearance in LaLiga for Sevilla, and he went on to make 10 more before the season was up, becoming the first player born this century to get an assist in the top five European leagues. Everything pointed towards him potentially becoming a regular in 2019-20.

While the appointment of Julen Lopetegui has generally been extremely fruitful for Sevilla as a whole – a Europa League crown and back-to-back top-four finishes – it's difficult to not now see that as the beginning of the end for Bryan at his boyhood club.

Spurs fans might be inclined to see this as a red flag. 'If Lopetegui doesn't rate him then why are we signing Bryan?' It seemingly comes down to the style of player that he is.

Bryan is above all quite an old-fashioned winger. Though he is adept at coming inside even from the left – and a future as a number 10 certainly isn't outside the realms of possibility given his technical ability – a lot of his game is about running at his man, beating him and getting a cross into the box.

 

For example, his tally of 122 open-play crosses was the fifth-highest in LaLiga last term. He's certainly persistent, and in theory this should be perfect for the system Lopetegui likes to operate, with a big and physical centre-forward to get on the end of deliveries. After all, Youssef En-Nesyri came third behind Ante Budimir (seven) and Karim Benzema (six) for among the most headed goals in 2020-21.

But in reality, Lopetegui prefers to use inverted wingers while overlapping full-backs provide more of the 'traditional' wing play. Lucas Ocampos, Suso, Alejandro Gomez, Rony Lopes and Oussama Idrissi are all wingers signed since Lopetegui took over – all like to cut in from the flank and on to their stronger foot.

Bryan played just two league games in 2019-20 prior to joining Leganes on loan for the second half of the season and was then allowed to join Eibar for 2020-21. It proved to be a stroke of genius in some ways.

Although Eibar suffered relegation, Jose Luis Mendilibar's 4-4-2 setup helped bring out the best in Bryan. Their high-pressing system showcased his tenacity and work rate, while their two-man attack meant wing play was essential without a bona fide number 10.

He quickly blossomed into a key player.

Bryan the brave

Spurs fans looking to learn more about Bryan may see his goals (four) and assists (three) output in LaLiga as perhaps a little underwhelming, though that doesn't really give the clearest picture of his effectiveness.

 

For starters, we have to remember Bryan was playing in a team that finished bottom of LaLiga, with Getafe (28) the only team to score fewer goals than them (29).

It's fair to say that was more about those finishing the chances as opposed to Bryan's creativity. His 0.18 xA (expected assists) per 90 minutewas bettered by only five wingers/wide midfielders (minimum 1,500 minutes played) last term, while it was a fair bit higher than his 0.12 actual assists each game.

Similarly, among the same group of players, Bryan ranked fourth for the most open-play key passes per 90 minutes (1.4), which again makes him something of an outlier considering Eibar's relegation.

It's also worth pointing out relegation battles aren't generally the situations managers tend to chuck teenagers into without any consideration of their mentality and qualities – but Mora's assessment brings further credence to the idea that Bryan's just a bit different.

"He wasn't shy at all," Mora added. "Yes, he was a skilled player who moved the ball well and made very precise crosses, but he also added bravery on the field. He never avoided a 'melee' with any opponent."

That bravery can manifest itself in several ways. One of them is tenacity – his average of 12.7 duels per game is impressive for a wide player. Most of those who rank higher than him (minimum 1,000 mins played) are central strikers. For further context, Lionel Messi recorded 14.9 in 2020-21.

 

Additionally, Bryan won the ball back in the final third 1.2 times every match, a figure only two players could beat in 2020-21 (min. 1,000 mins).

And the other area where his courageous streak comes into play is with regards to dribbling, probably his biggest asset. Alberto Perea (6.1) and Ousmane Dembele (5.5) were the two individuals to attempt more take-ons per game than Bryan (5.2), while over the course of the season, he set up 16 chances following a ball carry. Among those considered by Opta to have played predominantly as a winger/wide midfielder in 2020-21, Bryan's 16 ranked only behind Goncalo Guedes (17) and Dembele (23).

 

System adaptation may be required

There's little doubt Bryan has a lot to offer, and although his rather scrawny stature might lead to concerns over his physical suitability, he's demonstrably a player who isn't shy or withdrawn.

But stylistically it will be intriguing to see how he settles into the team should the deal go through. At Eibar last season he played in a side that was almost characterised by its high press, their 363 high turnovers being more than any other side in LaLiga. By contrast, Spurs recorded just 228 while new coach Nuno Espirito Santo's Wolves managed just 205 – both were among the bottom three in that metric.

 

But Spurs' 68 direct attacks were 28 more than Eibar, and Bryan's pace, ability on the ball and eagerness to get in a cross could potentially suit that rather well, while Nuno tended to play with two genuine wingers at Wolves.

Of course, the deal does represent something of a gamble, but is there really such thing as a 'Premier League guarantee'? We've seen countless players do well at one Premier League club before tanking at the next. Alexis Sanchez, anyone?

The important thing here is that Bryan's undoubtedly an exceptional talent and his skillset – at least in theory – seems to lend itself quite well to the fast and furious Premier League.

The last winger to make his way from Sevilla to the Premier League was Jesus Navas. For all his critics, he didn't do too badly, and Bryan already appears rather more equipped.

Harry Kane has described Nuno Espirito Santo as a "great manager" but will hold off from speaking to his new Tottenham boss until after England's Euro 2020 campaign.

The 27-year-old's club future has been a hot topic of debate after admitting in May he feels at a "crossroads" in his career following another trophyless campaign with Spurs. 

Kane, who has spent the past 17 years with the north London club aside from four loan spells away, is a rumoured target for Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Keeping hold of the prolific striker will be a top priority for Nuno, who was last week confirmed as Jose Mourinho's permanent successor.

But Kane has yet to discuss his future with the ex-Wolves coach as he is eager to focus solely on helping England to Euro 2020 glory on home soil over the next week.

"Whenever a new manager comes in, I guess there's a level of excitement around the club," Kane, who has scored three goals in England's run to the semi-finals, told talkSPORT.

"Obviously, I've not been there and not had any contact with him. I'm away with England now and my full focus is on here.

"Hopefully, we've got a week left. He's a great manager and did a great job at getting Wolves playing a really good way.

"Let's get back and I'm sure we'll be in contact after the tournament."

 

Kane finished as the Premier League's top scorer last season with 23 goals, making him the third player to win the award three times after Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer.

He also set up 14 goals to become only the second player in the Premier League era to top the charts for both goals and assists, the other being Andy Cole for Newcastle United in 1993-94.

Those 37 goals involvements were his most across a league campaign in his career, while his 14 assists doubled a previous high of seven in 2016-17.

Kane is under contract for another three years and new sporting director Fabio Paratici stressed on Monday that Spurs have no intention of selling the "special" player.

Asked about the comments made by Paratici, Kane said: "Of course, as a player you want to be wanted, you want to feel like you're loved, which I do.

"I haven't had the chance to talk to any of these people yet. I'm sure we'll get to know each other after the tournament, have a phone call or two once I get a week or two of holiday.

"To get praise from big people from football is great, it gives you confidence, it gives you motivation so of course it’s nice to hear."

 

While Kane has yet to speak with Nuno or Paratici, he has been in dialogue with Mourinho since the Portuguese was sacked by Tottenham in April.

"He's been texting me," Kane said of the now-Roma boss. "It's common knowledge we have a great relationship and got on really well.

"I really respect him as a manager and person. I wish him all the best at Roma. It is great to have one of the best managers in the world on your side.

"I will always respect him and hopefully be in contact with him for the rest of my career."

Everton continue their search for Carlo Ancelotti's replacement.

One emerging candidate has plenty of familiarity with Liverpool. 

Could the Toffees turn to a former rival? 

 

TOP STORY – BENITEZ IN MERSEYSIDE RETURN?

Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has emerged as a strong contender to replace Carlo Ancelotti at Everton, the Daily Mirror and other outlets report. 

As the Merseyside club's interest in former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo has faded, majority owner Farhad Moshiri apparently plans to speak to the 61-year-old Benitez. 

The Spaniard was Liverpool's manager from 2004-10, winning the Champions League title in 2005. He spent 18 months in charge of Chinese Super League club Dalian Professional before leaving by mutual consent in January. 

Others under consideration include Brighton and Hove Albion head coach Graham Potter, former Lille coach Christophe Galtier and former Toffees boss Roberto Martinez

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea have matched Paris Saint-Germain's offer of about €65million (£56.1m) to Inter for Achraf Hakimi, according to Sky Sport Italia, though Inter value the 22-year-old at €81m (£70m).

- Barcelona see Manchester City's Raheem Sterling as a potential replacement for Ousmane Dembele should the France international depart, according to Sport, and Marca says PSG have interest in Dembele. 

- David de Gea seems inclined to extend his stay at Manchester United and expects to be the first-choice goalkeeper ahead of Dean Henderson, The Sun reports. 

- Atletico Madrid rejected United's £10m bid for England right-back Kieran Trippier, according to Football Insider. 

- Roma are close to completing their long-rumoured signing of Arsenal's Granit Xhaka, Corriere dello Sport claims. 

- West Ham would like to sign Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard on a permanent deal, The Sun reports. 

- Tottenham have had discussions with Borussia Monchengladbach winger Marcus Thuram, RMC Sport reports, and The Athletic says Spurs could also be eyeing RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer

- Former Roma coach Paulo Fonseca has emerged as Spurs' preferred option to replace Jose Mourinho and the sides have discussed a three-year contract, the Guardian reports. 

- Former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard could be in the mix for the Crystal Palace opening, the Daily Mirror reports. 

Nuno Espirito Santo will bring an end to his four-year spell in charge of Wolves following Sunday's final Premier League game of the season against Manchester United.

The Portuguese earned promotion to the Premier League in his first season in charge and followed that up with successive seventh-placed finishes in the top flight.

He also guided the midlands side to the quarter-finals of the Europa League last season – their best European run in nearly 50 years – when they were beaten by eventual winners Sevilla.

Amid links with a number of other clubs, Nuno put pen to paper on a new contract last September that still has another two years to run.

However, following an underwhelming 2020-21 campaign – not helped by a long-term injury sustained by Raul Jimenez in November, plus the sales of Matt Doherty and Diogo Jota – Nuno is to step down by mutual consent.

"Since the first day we arrived at Compton, our ambition was to make a positive change and push this football club forward, and I am proud to say that we did that every single day," Nuno, who departs as the club's fifth-longest serving manager of the post-war era, told Wolves' official website.

"We achieved our goals, we did it with passion and we did it together. I want to thank the supporters, who have all played such an important part in helping us reach new heights for Wolves, and the people of the city, who embraced us and made us feel at home.

"I, of course, want to thank all of the staff at Wolves, for their support and total commitment, every single day.

"Most importantly, I want to thank each and every player that we've worked with since the day we started, for their loyalty, their dedication, hard work and talent. They are the ones who have made this amazing journey possible for us.

"Sunday will be a very emotional day, but I am so happy that the fans will be back in Molineux and we can share one last special moment together, as one pack."

Wolves can finish no higher than their current 12th-placed standing heading into their last game of the campaign at home to United.

That match will be Nuno's 199th in charge of Wolves in all competitions and will be attended by a limited number of supporters at Molineux as lockdown restrictions are eased in the United Kingdom.

Some 113 of those games have come in the Premier League, with Wolves winning 43, drawing 32 and losing 38 – only eight sides have won more games over that timeframe.

Wolves executive chairman Jeff Shi praised Nuno's influence at the club and is glad the popular coach will get a fitting send-off.

"Nuno has brought us some incredibly special moments at Wolves that will never be forgotten, but every chapter comes to an end," Shi said.

"Sunday was already going to be a very special day, welcoming our supporters back for the first time in more than a year; but it will also now be a fitting goodbye for someone who will forever remain an important part of Wolves history."

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