Tottenham Hotspur Season Preview - Low Expectation at The Lane
This is the first season in a long time at Tottenham Hotspur where expectations are low, days of finishing in the top half being heralded as a good result are long gone and were replaced by a challenge for Champions League football and then a demand for it came. However, after finishing outside the top four the last two seasons and not playing in the top European competition since 10/11 because of Chelsea’s win in Munich’s back yard it seems Spurs must start again and not get left behind.
Last season was probably one of the best disaster seasons a club has gone through. Tottenham finished 6th with 69 points, only 3 points off their record league points total and two seasons previously that would have been enough to finish 4th. That does though highlight Tottenham’s biggest issue; those around them are getter better and are overtaking them.
Harry Redknapp’s Spurs guaranteed 4th back in 2010 with a 1-0 win against a Manchester City who hadn’t felt the full impact of their new Dubai money and a previous top four guarantee, Liverpool, were floundering in 6th. Now, City are defending champions, Liverpool pushed them to the final day and Arsenal, Chelsea and United have all strengthened with big names signing on the pitch or in the dugout. Tottenham, however, have just signed three players, two of which are likely to be back ups. Yet there is a cautious optimism because of their biggest signing of the summer and that is of the new man at the helm, Mauricio Pochettino.
Pochettino has a reputation of playing a Bielsa-inspired tactic of playing high pressing traps with quick transitions and an organised defensive structure while blooding through youth. On paper he seems the perfect Spurs man as fans crave to play like they did in their glory days in the 50s and 60s under Rowe and Nicholson, ‘the right way’.
After the defensive, slow style of AVB was criticised even when it got results and then became unforgivable after heavy defeats to West Ham, Manchester City and Liverpool it was followed by Tim Sherwood, a man with no managerial experience, a not so closet Woolwich fan and a subject of the 4-4-2 in which he used to play back in the 90s. There was certainly a naivety to his tactics and many reports of unhappy senior plays such a Vertonghen, Sandro and Paulinho, something which is unlikely to be a problem under the Argentine. Apparent Spurs target Jay Rodriguez has said that ‘Poch’ “brought the best out of me and gave me self-belief…You can talk to him. The players respected him so much.”
There is no doubt that Pochettino is walking into the biggest club he has managed but expectation is at a real low, however, there will be a demand. Any finish in the top 7 will be acceptable although fans will definitely want to finish above Everton but what is important is how they play. If Tottenham play like Southampton but with a technical improvement, bringing back the respect of the club, no longer being a joke, having some of last summer’s signings come good and no humiliating defeats while making a good game of it against the top 5 then fans will see a positive progress and get behind the man with a five year contract.
Ben Davies: Last season it was clear that the biggest gap in Tottenham’s squad was at left back. The previous season Danny Rose had excelled at Sunderland, however last campaign he was injury prone and his position had to be filled by players out of position, Vertonghen and Naughton and it showed. The performances of Rose themselves were highly ridiculed, scattered with too many individual errors. Davies adds competition and will most likely be first choice, forcing Rose to raise his game. Davies is solid and used to playing in a team under a modern manager with good attacking play with full backs pushed forward and defensive stability under Laudrup. The straight swap with Sigurdsson, a fringe player is also great business and at 21 he can make the left back spot his own for the next 8-10 years.
Eric Dier: The foreign Englishman. The Under 21 international from Sporting Lisbon made his Spurs debut at White Hart Lane against Schalke on Saturday, and looked solid, assured and overall very promising. Some fans would even be happy to see him start alongside Vertonghen at Upton Park. He has a solid technique and has even been deployed as a defensive midfielder; however, there is a question over his concentration. He is most likely to be a back up, but there is still plenty of uncertainty regarding which centre backs will be at the club, whoever is there, there is little doubt that Pochettino will have few worries about playing Dier.
Michel Vorm: With Chelsea aside, Tottenham now have the best back up keeper in the league, after a few outstanding seasons at Swansea, he was linked with the likes of Arsenal but his form was inconsistent last campaign and the arrival of Fabianski is clearly enough for Vorm to try and ‘challenge’ Lloris for number one spot. Vorm will most likely play all the cup games but will not unseat one of the world’s best keepers but is a great backup should the Frenchman be injured or suspended.
Christian Eriksen: The Dane was voted Spurs player of the year last season and made 7 assists in 2014 the joint highest in the league alongside Gerrard and Suarez. He was given a freer role under Sherwood and his technical ability was out for all to see. He is a great set piece taker and has showed this against Celtic in pre-season and his link up play with Lamela and Lennon has got fans excited. At only 22, there is still so much to come from Eriksen, who could well go on and be as good as his hero Laudrup, however, there are doubts on how he will adapt to the high pressing style of Pochettino but if he links well with Lamela and Soldado then he will truly become one of the biggest bargains at only £11million.
Erik Lamela: A real disappointment last season, the ‘new Bale’ only made three league starts and never settled in a new country with a new language and a new physical element to the league. Injury finished his season in December but the arrival of compatriot Pochettino has fans excited of Lamela being again a ‘new signing’. Pre-season has only heighted the expectations as he looks like the man Roma fans saw, playing in a fluid three behind the striker, he has scored 3 times and linked well with Eriksen and Lennon. Against Schalke though, he again looked lightweight and has worried a few fans, but could well score 15+ this season.
Jan Vertonghen: There is talk of a new five year contract on the table and ‘Super Jan’ has said he wants to stay at Spurs but he didn’t look like he did at times last season. The one that sticks out for Spurs fans is the image of him just casually leaning against the wall down the tunnel against Liverpool. 50 seconds into the game and Spurs are one down via a Kaboul own goal. However, the Belgian was obviously unhappy under Sherwood but following his recent comments he is likely to be the main man at the back and should get back to his form of being one the best centre halves in the league.
Possible Starting Line Up
Despite the arrival of Dutchman, Vorm there is no doubt that Lloris is the number one. Kyle Walker is a clear favourite to start at right back with most fans not particularly impressed with Kyle Naughton despite his performances on the right being far superior to those on the left. Likely signing American, DeAndre Yedlin, will probably join in January leaving many speculating Naughton will leave then. Walker has been injured since March meaning Naughton will start against West Ham. On the other side Davies probably has the edge but Rose put in a very strong performance against Schalke and could well start at Upton Park.
No-one knows what is going on at centre half with it looking increasingly unlikely that Musacchio will be joining from Villarreal. Pochettino doesn’t seem to fancy Dawson who can’t seem to keep up to pace of the high defensive line of the ever evolving game. Kaboul could well start the season alongside Vertonghen with Dier and Chiriches as back up.
Capoue seems to have taken hold of the defensive midfielder slot in the double pivot ahead of Sandro where there are questions over his technical abilities. However, if Schneiderlin joins he will surely take the spot. Perhaps the most up for grabs spot is the one alongside Capoue. Dembele, Paulinho, Bentaleb and Holtby are all looking to make the spot their own. There is clearly more to come from Brazilian Paulinho and the technically outstanding Dembele but Bentaleb is showing maturity beyond his years and Holtby has had a strong pre-season which will most likely see him start, it is however, likely we will see all four play a big part as Spurs look to challenge on four fronts.
Two of three attacking midfielder roles are set with Eriksen and Lamela but it seems a battle between Lennon and Townsend for the other. Townsend will be looking to improve on his reputation from last year which saw him become an England hero. Tottenham fans though are frustrated with his poor decision making and persistent shooting from long range. If that can be toned down and he improves that aspect of his game he really could set the league alight. For Lennon it is now or never at 27, he has had a strong pre-season working well with Eriksen and Lamela and looks to start the first game but Townsend will likely make many sub appearances trying to stake his claim.
Up front is hard to call, Adebayor probably deserves it following his great return of 14 goals in 25 games last season but Soldado’s obvious ability to link up the play with a sublime Spanish touch may fit into Pochettino’s new style. Harry Kane will likely start a few cup games and make sub appearances. The new manager has a job on his hands to get the best out of at least one of these but if he does Tottenham will already have what they think they may be missing.
Predicted League Finish
There will be some who want nothing less than top four. They are now in the minority with many expecting Spurs to fall short because of the way those around them have strengthened. Tottenham will most likely be battling with Everton to finish 6th and get a Europa League place, which now has the added bonus of the winners gaining a Champions League place. Many would like to see a strong Europa League run and see that as a more realistic way of getting Champions League football next season. Everton have only slightly improved on last season and Pochettino should be the difference as Spurs have the far superior squad, they just need the right man to lead them. The expectation is for Tottenham to finish in 6th.