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Oct 31, 2013

Can Tottenham stay in EPL's top four?

As the European football season rolls into November, one of the biggest storylines continues to be the summer transfer of Gareth Bale. The Welsh international picked up his first brace for Real Madrid in a 7-3 win over Sevilla this week, and at long last it looks as if he is finally becoming comfortable in his new surroundings.

For Bale’s former team, the situation is much more complex. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy worked diligently to replace Bale by finding multiple players who could fill the void, and in the process ended the summer transfer window at a net loss despite Bale’s estimated 86 million-pound ($137 million) price tag. Skilled attackers like Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado were brought in to replicate Bale’s attacking numbers, while defensive anchors like Paulinho were paid handsomely to improve a team that had the fourth-highest opponent goal conversion rate in the Premier League (12.4 percent).

But as Tottenham enters the 10th game of the season, there is little evidence that the team has coalesced around a new identity. Spurs currently sit in fourth place, but have yet to string together a performance or group of performances that show they will avoid being right on the top four “bubble” in the closing weeks of May. In fact, favorable early scheduling makes it that much harder for Spurs fans to accept beating newly promoted Crystal Palace on a penalty in the 89th minute, or taking maximum points from Hull due to a fortunate handball in the penalty area against Ahmed Elmohamady.

Meanwhile, Liverpool has used the first nine games to establish itself as a legitimate top-four contender, adding more pressure for a Spurs roster that is commonly characterized by what it lacks in terms of top talent. However, a closer look at this Tottenham team shows that even though Levy had good intentions with his new signings, his lack of a star player will ultimately keep Tottenham out of England’s top four this season.

This is not to say Tottenham is a bad team, or that the loss of Bale will somehow lead the team into a slow spiral toward the relegation zone. As it stands, Tottenham leads the league in average possession percentage, and also takes a league-high 17.7 shot attempts per match. The problem is that there is little quality to these chances, and worse, there is no world-class player to orchestrate a piece of brilliance in the absence of said quality chances. Currently, Tottenham has settled for taking 57 percent of its shots from outside the penalty area, the fourth-highest percentage in the Premier League.

#INSERT type:image caption: Tottenham's team shot attempts in 2013-14, left, and Gare...