Antonio Conte has continued his summer of spending by recruiting a behind-the-scenes name to try and transform the fortunes of one key deficiency in his side, with set-piece specialist Gianni Vio joining his coaching staff.
Spurs have not been afraid to splash the cash this transfer window, with the returning Champions League club securing the services of Richarlison, Yves Bissouma, Clement Lenglet, Ivan Perisic and Fraser Forster for a combined £85m.
Conte has now sought to reinforce his backroom staff by luring Vio to the club, a shrewd acquisition when considering Spurs’ fortunes from deadball scenarios last season. The specialist coach has pedigree and a blossoming CV that includes the Italian national team, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Leeds among others.
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Bestowed the moniker ‘the little wizard’ after Catania avoided relegation in 2008/09 with 17 of their 44 goals coming from set-pieces, the former banker’s stock skyrocketed from there and he has gone on to work alongside — and with — some of the finest names in the sport.
He was a key member of Roberto Mancini’s Italy side as they won Euro 2020 last summer, with the nation famously scoring from a corner to equalise against England in the final — before winning on penalties — where he was credited with devising 4,830 different set-piece scenarios for Gli Azzurri to work on.
There are echoes of Arsenal’s appointment of their own set-piece specialist last summer, when Mikel Arteta brought Nicolas Jover to the club from Manchester City, having previously worked alongside him under Pep Guardiola when he was a coach at the Etihad.
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Jover’s impact in north London last season was tangible and instantaneous. Despite conceding from a long throw in their curtain-raiser against Brentford, the Gunners went on to be prove quite the deadball experts (in their own right) throughout the campaign, a reputation completely at odds with the religiously-on-the-floor brand Arsene Wenger spent years cultivating in north London.
They ranked third in the entire Premier League in 2021/22 for set-piece goals (16), joint-fourth for direct set-piece assists (eight) and fifth for set-play expected goals (15.06). They also conceded just eight goals from set-pieces, the sixth-best record in the league.
When you consider the season before (2020/21) that Arsenal had the third-worst record for goals scored from set-pieces (six), ahead of only relegated duo Sheffield United and Fulham, then Jover’s impact starts to look all the more influential and important. In fact, the club ranked second-last for set-play expected goals (7.08) in 2020/21 as well, and that rocketed up to the aforementioned fifth-placed ranking in 2021/22 (15.06).
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Nicolas Jover really was the signing of the season… pic.twitter.com/FHHK1mKPlS
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Last term, Spurs ranked 15th for set-piece goals (eight) and joint-second-last for accurate corners into the box (38). It’s obvious why Conte has got on the phone to Vio this summer, with the Italian hoping his compatriot can make the whole of north London a set-piece sanctuary.
Indeed the contrast between both clubs last season is quite striking. Arsenal ranked second (11), behind only Manchester City (16) for registering a goal assist from set-play scenarios. Spurs ranked third-last (four), with only Leicester (three) and Norwich (two) registering lower totals.
“You need to analyse the players you have and find solutions tailor-made to their skillset,” Vio once said in an interview with La Nuova di Venezia.
“There are players whose reading of the game is special. At the highest level, Sergio Ramos comes to mind. Wherever you put the ball, you can bet he’ll find a way to get on the end of it. Timing is the most important thing when it comes to finishing off a set-piece.”
It’s clear that Vio is a master of his craft, and while he won’t be able to work alongside a player of Ramos’ ilk, there is plenty of potential in this current Spurs set-up to transform them into deadball beasts.
Recent recruit Perisic ranked third last season in Serie A among full-backs and wing-backs for crosses (150) and, get this, joint-first among any defender (including centre-backs) for headed goals (three). So, even if he’s not on set-piece duty, the experienced Croat can get into the mixer and look to guide one in from his noggin instead.
Take into account that Richarlison also won the fourth-most fouls of any player in the Premier League last season (68) and you start to see Conte’s thought process. By virtue of Richarlison simply being on the pitch, Spurs look set to be involved in a lot of set-pieces next term, why not make the most out of them?