Premier League Preview: Tottenham
Lessons from last season
Rarely have preseason expectations been lower at White Hart Lane. Despite a sixth-place finish and an impressive points tally, the 2013-14 season was a vision of hell for most Spurs fans. The football was consistently poor, the removal of Andre Villas-Boas was badly timed, few players performed to their potential and by early March the club seemed to have given up trying to compete. All of which, bizarrely, does give some grounds for optimism. If Spurs can still make the Europa League playing badly, imagine what might happen if they started playing well. There is no rocket science or clever tactics required from new manager Mauricio Pochettino. Spurs have a strong squad; what's required is to get them playing to an acceptable standard. The starting point is to instill a team spirit and work ethic. Too many players last season acted like prima donnas.
Predicted starting lineup
Little and everything. Having spent the Gareth Bale money like water in last year's preseason, Spurs have so far opted for a low-key transfer policy. Only Swansea's Ben Davies and Michel Vorm have been added to the squad thus far. There have been rumours about Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez joining Spurs from Southampton, along with Eric Dier from Sporting Lisbon, but so far nothing has materialised. Either Spurs are back to playing their usual high-wire transfer-deadline game or players are reluctant to commit to a club that underperformed last season. Yet with a new manager anything is possible. Though hopefully not finding out the team is worse than it was last year.
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On paper Spurs have a squad to match many of their Premier League rivals. Every position, from goalkeeper to striker, has good cover. In theory, then, neither injuries nor tiredness should prevent the club from fielding strong sides and putting in a strong challenge in all cup competitions as well as the league. The key to making this work in practice -- something neither Villas-Boas nor Tim Sherwood was able to manage last season -- is not by indiscriminate buying in the transfer window but by getting the very best out of the players they already have; Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and Erik Lamela just can't be as poor as they looked last season.
Confidence. Few players could look back on last season with much pleasure, and those who went on to play for their national sides in the World Cup by and large took their indifferent club form with them to Brazil. Every player will be hoping to draw a line under last season by getting off to a good start. If that happens then all may be well; a few bad results and the doubts will come rushing back. Defensively, the team have still looked suspect in their three North American friendlies, and they still are not turning possession into chances.
Manager - ESPN FC profile
Undoubtedly the key figure at the club is Mauricio Pochettino. If he can inspire the players and get them to believe in him and each other then the job is more than half done before a ball is kicked in anger. Pochettino pulled it off at Southampton, but he may find it tougher at Spurs, where the expectations of the fans and management are much higher, where the players have bigger egos and where the media attention will be greater.
It's tempting to go with either Christian Eriksen or Roberto Soldado. Eriksen was the quickest of the new imports to settle into the side, and Spurs have come to rely on both his work rate and creativity; Soldado needs to prove he is as nerveless in open play as he is from the penalty spot. But the key player has to be last year's disappearing man: Erik Lamela. If any manager can get the best out of the Argentine it has to be his compatriot Pochettino, and Lamela needs to make himself a permanent fixture in the starting XI. He's strong and quick, and if Townsend finds some form on the left flank, the two wingers could be a real handful.
Predicted finish: Sixth
I can't see Spurs breaking into the top four, unless two of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have disastrous seasons. So fifth or sixth in the Premiership is a realistic expectation. Given the strength in depth, a decent run in one -- or more -- of the cups should also be on the cards. Over and above the league finish or cup success, most fans would probably settle for Spurs playing some decent football again. Watching them for most of last season was torture.