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 By Ben Pearce

Spurs slumped last autumn, but health on their side entering tough run

The Exploding Heads went to Wembley in order to lift the curse over Tottenham at the national stadium.

Tottenham return to action in a healthy position, lying third in the Premier League, sitting second in their Champions League group and with a place in the last 16 of the League Cup.

With 10 games gone in all competitions, their record is the same as it was 12 months ago -- seven wins, two draws and a loss.

Then, like now, they improved quickly after an average start and went into the second international break with a winning run -- five matches in 2016, four successive games this time.

Tottenham HotspurTottenham Hotspur
AFC BournemouthAFC Bournemouth
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Mauricio Pochettino and his players will just hope the similarities end there, because this was the period last year when they began their damaging slump. Between Oct. 15 and the end of November, they won just one of 10 matches.

It cost them their place in the League Cup and then the Champions League, and Pochettino has since reflected that it also left Chelsea too far ahead despite the gallant pursuit that followed.

There were mitigating factors though, most notably injuries to Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld, and at present Tottenham are looking healthier.

Indeed, having already survived a glut of absences -- seven players were missing against Apoel Nicosia -- they could soon be able to call upon Erik Lamela and Danny Rose.

The early signs are that Spurs will be competitive in all competitions -- probably more so in Europe than last season -- but how competitive exactly? The next four weeks are likely to be highly instructive, throwing up a number of heavyweight showdowns and other important challenges.

First up is a home game against struggling Bournemouth -- not the trickiest fixture on paper but another test of Spurs' ability to beat the lesser teams at Wembley, something they have failed to do so far.

Tottenham have the joint-best away record in the league, along with Manchester City -- four wins from four and a goal difference of plus-10. But they have the fourth-worst home form, having lost to Chelsea and been held to draws by Burnley and Swansea, scoring only twice across those three matches.

It is a vital area for improvement, and the visit of 19th-placed Bournemouth looks a big opportunity to get that elusive home win in the league.

Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier and Spurs are in good shape as they look for a home win on Saturday.

Things get a little tougher three days later -- a trip to the Bernabeu to face Real Madrid -- but Spurs have room for error in Group H (a six-point lead over the bottom two teams).

While a point or three would of course be hugely valuable, the pressure is off to an extent and, even in defeat, the trip to Spain can provide useful experience and a chance to measure Tottenham's side against the best.

Given Pochettino has stated his desire to win the Champions League as well as the Premier League, here will be a handy yardstick -- a showdown with a side aiming for a third successive European title who will give Spurs a good idea of their standing on the continent at present, and where they need to improve.

The north Londoners then return to Wembley for another crunch clash against Liverpool, traditional top-four rivals and a side Tottenham are yet to beat at home under Pochettino.

Last season Tottenham won all but two matches at White Hart Lane, beating Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United -- but not Liverpool, who led before Rose's equaliser resulted in a 1-1 draw. Can Spurs beat the Reds this time?

Three days later, Pochettino's side host West Ham in the League Cup, at the stage where they were eliminated by Liverpool last season.

Despite the local rivalry, Pochettino is likely to pick a weakened team, so can his second-string players take an extra step this time and seize a place in the quarterfinals? It is set to be a good test of Spurs' squad.

Then comes a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, a fixture Tottenham have lost in each of their three seasons under Pochettino.

The two Manchester clubs are five points ahead of the rest at present, but can Spurs challenge them and get involved in the title race again? We may well get a better idea on Oct. 28.

What follows is two rather different home matches against Real Madrid and top-flight basement boys Crystal Palace, when contrasting tactics will probably be needed.

So, before the November international break, Spurs can quieten concerns about their home form at Wembley, secure improved results against two of their biggest Premier League rivals relative to last season, book a place in the last eight of the League Cup and further enhance their position and reputation in Europe by impressing against Madrid.

On the other hand, a repeat of last year's barren spell could again damage their ambitions in all three competitions, and eliminate them from one entirely.

The next month may well show how far Spurs have come since then, and how far they could go this season.

Ben is ESPN FC's Tottenham blogger. Follow on Twitter: @BenPearceSpurs.


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