Tottenham Hotspur 2015/16 Season Preview
Tottenham Hotspur seem to have been in a perennial period of transition now for a good few seasons, with summers of disruption and shake-ups being all too commonplace. However, they have had a stable transfer window thus far with no significant departures and in retaining Mauricio Pochettino, they have a man at the helm with a clear understanding of how to get the best out of the technically gifted players in the squad. Whilst Harry Kane will still most likely be their main man, I expect them to have a more balanced season which is not so dependent on the England striker this time around.
Story of last season
The Lilywhites finished last season in 5th position in the Premier League, amassing a tally of 64 points which put them two points above Liverpool but left them 6 points adrift of Manchester United in the final Champions League qualification position. This can be taken as a good result for Tottenham, especially when you examine the vast quantities of money spent by the sides who finished above them and even the Anfield outfit whom they pipped into 5th position. Some of the standout performances from the North London club include the fabulous display to beat Champions Chelsea 5-3 and defeating their close neighbours Arsenal 2-1, with both results coming at White Hart Lane.
There was an ingrained unpredictability about Spurs for the majority of the campaign however, frequently relying on vital interventions in the dying embers of matches by late goal specialist Christian Eriksen and their hitman Harry Kane. In fact the Englishman’s individual efforts in front of goal won his side 24 points over the course of last season, more than any other player. Pochettino will be looking to secure the points in a much more stable manner during the coming campaign.
Toby Alderweireld (£11.5 million): Spurs acquired the calm and collected Belgian from Atlético Madrid and they will be hoping he can continue his form shown last year for Southampton, building on a debut campaign in England. Forming a solid partnership with international teammate Vertonghen should improve Tottenham’s defensive record no end.
Dele Alli (£5 million): Widely considered to be one of the most promising English youngsters in the game at the moment, the Lilywhites secured the services of Dele Alli in January but sent him back on loan to MK Dons where he continued to fill the hearts of Spurs fans with hope.
Kieran Trippier (undisclosed): As one of the most impressive performers in Burnley’s unsuccessful fight against relegation from the Premier League, Trippier made a mark with his supreme defensive steel and attacking intensity. The full-back will certainly provide stiff competition for Walker, Dier and Yedlin.
Kevin Wimmer (£4.3 million): The Austrian is the least known of Spurs’ signings to date but nevertheless, the tall Austrian centre half could well have a meaningful impact on defensive solidity having already accumulated 72 appearances in three years at FC Köln.
Harry Kane: Undeniably the star of Tottenham’s 2014/15 season, Harry Kane forced his way into the side due to a combination of ruthless finishing in the Europa League and Soldado’s repeated incompetence. Being the first player at White Hart Lane since Gary Lineker to smash through the 30 goal mark for a Premier League season, Kane really stole the hearts of the Spurs fans. As a testament to his tremendous efforts throughout the season, personal accolades were showered upon him as the campaign drew to a close. He was nominated as the PFA Young Player of the Year Award and earned his first England cap against Lithuania, in fact notching his first goal on the international stage only 80 seconds into his fledgling career.
Once Kane had become a regular in the starting line-up, he wasted no time in catching up his competitors for the golden boot. Braces were no rare occurrence for Spurs’ number 18 with perhaps his best coming in the 5-3 victory over Chelsea to see in the new year. Rattling in the goals seemingly every time he entered the field of play, Kane was a serial winner of Player of the Month awards and in March, he netted his first ever Premier League hat-trick in the process of defeating Leicester City 4-3. Tottenham must hope that Kane is able to replicate this dazzling form under the alien environment of expectation.
Tottenham’s very own Great Dane took his performances onto the next level last season having been one of the few to have avoided criticism in Spurs’ first year without Gareth Bale. Christian Eriksen is the glue which holds the team together on the pitch, dictating the pace, incision and direction of the play. So prominent has he been that he has occasionally been deployed out of position on the left of midfield and; despite the fact that he will still perform well there, he is far from his most effective. The Danish international’s strengths do not lie in the physical aspects of the game or being particularly aware of defensive responsibility. His clear desire to come inside from the left to influence proceedings was effective going forward but left Spurs and Danny Rose hopelessly exposed in defence.
Eriksen really came to the fore as a Tottenham star last campaign when he was given the license to strut his stuff behind the main striker; namely goal poacher extraordinaire Harry Kane. Aside from the numerous cutting passes and intelligent chipped balls over the defence to the England striker, Eriksen himself was not restricted to only assisting others. Contributing on the scoring front as well, his prowess over a dead ball has become feared throughout the land and one only needs to see sumptuous strikes such as that against Sheffield United to be aware of this ability. He also developed the knack of grabbing late goals to rescue the points for Tottenham in the last knockings of matches. This was a feat which kept the side’s momentum going week to week when it looked for certain to be stopped in its tracks by a resilient opponent.
Hugo Lloris: Having taken on the role as the permanent and undisputed club captain, the 29 year old Frenchman is an integral component of Pochettino’s side and without his interventions, Spurs would have suffered many more defeats. Since he arrived in North London for a fee in the region of £10 million, he has continued to string together man of the match displays.
Although in the short term, Lloris’ recent wrist injury is highly distressing news for him and his teammates, it may be that his broken wrist comes as a blessing in disguise for Spurs. Their fabulous French goalkeeper has become a much less attractive proposition in the immediate future for potential suitors, thus perhaps allowing them to retain his services into 2016, an outcome which at times in the last few months has not looked particularly likely.
With the assumption that there will not be too many significant or shocking transfers involving Tottenham Hotspur in the weeks before the end of the transfer window, their starting eleven has a very settled look to it. In my opinion, the only addition from this summer who is likely to force their way into contention for regular Premier League football is Toby Alderweireld, with the likes of Dele Alli and Kieran Trippier to have a greater opportunity later in the campaign.
The goalkeeping position picks itself once Lloris returns from his wrist injury with Pochettino hoping that he can very quickly return to displays which demonstrate the Frenchman’s world-class shot-stopping ability. Michel Vorm is the probable deputy whilst Lloris is out of action but should not prove to be too stern a competitor once everyone is fit.
In defence, Kyle Walker’s Premier League experience should grant him an extended period in the first team despite his serious injury troubles over the last couple of years. Hip complaints have kept him from the starting picture but a full pre-season should help a great deal. As mentioned earlier, I foresee Toby Alderweireld coming straight into the first team picture and should partner his compatriot Jan Vertonghen as a centre half pairing. With increased stability alongside him, the left-footed Belgian can hopefully put his previously somewhat unreliable form behind him and start to perform consistently at the level we all know he possesses. Danny Rose was; surprisingly to many, one of Tottenham’s most impressive performers last season. It was widely expected that the addition of Ben Davies; who had shone at Swansea, would displace Rose from his starting berth but committed displays in an attacking sense on the flank kept the Englishman in the side. Immediately at least, I see this continuing.
I believe that Pochettino will set Spurs up with a midfield three that is hopefully able to control proceedings from back to front. Nabil Bentaleb will most likely be the deepest-lying of the trio, playing in a role that embraces both his combative edge and natural ability of his cultured left foot. Having been thrust into the starting eleven initially under Tim Sherwood, the Algerian has since gone from strength to strength and Tottenham fans would argue that he is one of the first names on the team sheet. Ryan Mason is another who has made huge strides in recent times, with his rise perhaps peaking when he was selected to start for The Lilywhites in the Capital One Cup Final. He is built with only a slight frame but no longer suffers from continually being dispossessed, allowing him to link defence and attack with panache. Christian Eriksen is another who is absolutely guaranteed his position in the starting eleven for Tottenham Hotspur. As one of the few who possesses a genuine world-class ability, the Dane can turn any game on its head with one of several outstanding qualities. Standing over a dead ball, he can easily lay a chance on a plate for a team-mate or just as easily curl one into the top corner himself. Comfortable on either foot, Eriksen can slip a pass through the defence or even pick his spot from outside the area and place the ball into the net beyond the ‘keeper. Simply put, Tottenham struggle to function and operate without their number 23.
There is one absolute certainty in the attacking trio that makes up the most forward thinking group of the 4-2-3-1 formation favoured at Tottenham Hotspur, and that is Harry Kane. Spurs’ number 18 and quite possibly England’s number 9 for years to come, the frontman had a season to cherish last time out. Goal after goal at an incessant pace came for the lethal forward and his side continued to feed his seemingly mechanical output. Supplying Kane from the flanks and indeed looking to be a threat on goal themselves will be players such as Nacer Chadli, Andros Townsend and Erik Lamela. I believe that it will be the Belgian and Englishman who are granted the initial opportunities in the first team as they appeared to be the most consistent performers as last season drew to a close. With both Chadli and Townsend able to cut in from the wings onto their stronger foot, they can attack the goal directly but in addition, are confident enough on their weaker side to reach the by-line and pull the ball back for a teammate.
Overall, Tottenham look to be a well-balanced side when all their important stars are fit and with a tactically astute coach at the helm, they should be dangerous for all opponents in the months ahead.
Under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino, it has not always been plain sailing for Tottenham Hotspur but in hindsight, last season can be seen as a relatively successful one. Although Sherwood did motivate his troops superbly during his short stint in charge, Spurs were in somewhat of a disarray when the Argentine took over. Players unsure of where their loyalties lay and the budget available to Pochettino was a contentious issue, so for him to guide Spurs to a 5th placed finish, reach the final of the Capital One Cup and the knock-out stages of the Europa League are not achievements to be sniffed at.
Whilst an observer can easily point to the exploits of key stars Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris as being of paramount importance for Tottenham’s success, Pochettino adapted at a fast pace to take advantage of the situation presented to him. The way he handled Kane’s introduction and eventual complete integration into first team affairs left very little to be desired. Furthermore, he had the unwelcome addition of Europa League football to contend with and as Spurs also progressed in the domestic cup, fixture pile-up was an issue of acute sincerity. However, I believe that he coped with it well, rotating from game to game to keep players fresh when he felt it necessary but in general, managing to retain a core group of regular starters.
Now with two seasons of Premier League football under his belt and indeed a second consecutive year in the hot-seat at White Hart Lane, I expect Pochettino to go from strength to strength. The double-edged sword of Europa League football must again be dealt with but nevertheless, I feel that the Argentine has the managerial intelligence to cope with it.
First Six Fixtures
Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur:
Although it is admittedly hard to imagine a more difficult opening game than having to visit Old Trafford, perhaps there is the opportunity to catch a recently renovated Manchester United cold. There has been a significant turn-over of playing staff with the departures of Van Persie and Falcao but also key additions in Depay, Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger. Even so, I think Van Gaal’s side will have too much for Spurs on the opening day, leaving them travelling back to London empty handed.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Stoke City:
Stoke City enjoyed quite possibly their best campaign in the Premier League to date last time out, in fact securing a consecutive top half finish for the first time. With the return of their own maverick Bojan imminent and a fine blend of youth and experience throughout the side, Mark Hughes has a team that is perhaps even more dangerous to the opposition than Pulis’ infamous long ball merchants. Nevertheless, they remain a less potent outfit on their travels and I think this will bear fruit for Spurs, probably possessing just too much quality for Stoke on their own patch to earn three points.
Leicester City vs Tottenham Hotspur:
Leicester City have grabbed the attention of many in the last few months for both good reasons and bad. They ended the Premier League season with form that would not have looked out of place for title winners, dragging themselves out of the relegation mire to safety. At Christmas, they were rooted to the bottom of the league and cut five points adrift from the side in 19th. In fact, The Foxes spent longer in 20th position; 140 days in total, without being relegated than any side in Premier League history. However, that wave of good fortune has been muddied somewhat since an ‘eventful’ post-season trip to Thailand that has climaxed in Nigel Pearson being replaced by Claudio Ranieri. It will be interesting to see how a surely unsettled side such as Leicester will start the season but with the majority of the spine of their triumphant squad still present, I can see them holding Spurs to a draw here.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Everton:
The blue half of Merseyside should be strong opponents yet again especially down the spine of the team. Howard, Stones, McCarthy, Barkley and Lukaku will provide a stern test for even the best of opposition, let alone Tottenham Hotspur who find themselves in the second tier of the Premier League along with the likes of Everton. Solid in defence, both combative and creative in midfield, and now with the addition of Deulofeu to The Blues’ attack, they have yet more pace and direction in attack. This could well prove to be a very difficult afternoon for Spurs, perhaps being held to a draw at home against Martinez’s outfit.
Sunderland vs Tottenham Hotspur:
As Sunderland avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth yet again last season, Tottenham should see them as one of the easier opponents to face, even away from White Hart Lane. Fans of the Black Cats are certainly vociferous but after a prolonged period of distress and disappointment, it does not take a great deal for them to turn against their own side. Advocaat has made a few additions to his squad over the summer but even so, Spurs have much greater strength in depth and quality throughout the side. I believe that they will take all three points back to London with them, especially if they start the match at a frenetic pace.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Crystal Palace:
Crystal Palace can boast incredible support from the diehard fans of The Eagles, frequently making them a more difficult side to beat than their starting eleven would have you believe. The effect of this is magnified at Selhurst Park however, with the fans’ influence nullified somewhat when Palace travel away. Nevertheless, an attacking trio of Zaha, Bolasie and Puncheon is one packed with pace and power, threatening to any defence. It will definitely be a challenge for Tottenham to come away with all three points from this fixture but at home, they should manage it.
These first six fixtures lead into a trio of tough matches where even the most ardent of Spurs supporters would not be expecting to bring home anywhere near maximum points. This perhaps places even greater emphasis on obtaining as promising a start as possible. In a pleasant change of pace to recent seasons, this summer has not been one blighted by significant upheaval. Tottenham Hotspur need to hope that players have already combined well as a group and that there is only a minimal ‘bedding in’ period. With events running smoothly, I believe that it is entirely possible for the Lilywhites to finish this opening run of fixtures on 11 points out of a possible 18, with the potential to even add a few more. This will give them a much needed feeling of positivity in August and September.
Final Standing Prediction – 7th
Although in contrast to Liverpool they have not strengthened too heavily in the transfer market, I predict that the North London club will be the main contender alongside the Anfield outfit and Southampton to challenge the current top four in the quest for Champions League qualification. Currently, the main aspect that will hold them back in their aspirations will be a lack of depth in the areas up front. Bar Harry Kane, the only other out-and-out forward on their books is the ineffectual Roberto Soldado after the drawn-out departure of Emmanuel Adebayor to Aston Villa. Spurs must strengthen here with at least one quality addition, else they may find themselves lagging behind their rivals in the spots just below the top four.
Where do you think Tottenham Hotspur can finish this season if all goes well? Are there other players who will be key to their ambitions and are there any areas that must be strengthened before the transfer window closes? Let us know in the comments section or on twitter @TBRFootball .
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