Pochettino's second season will invariably see more emphasis on high pressing and youth players. Can it yield even better dividends than last term's fifth place?
New season, same old ambition for Tottenham: finish in the top four. Whether this is realistic is debatable, but that didn’t stop Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino thinking even bigger at the end of last season when he stated the aim for the new campaign was to “close the gap between us and Chelsea”. That’s right, Chelsea, the runaway title winners. Setting the bar even higher for a club that perennially underachieve is a dangerous game, especially when chairman Daniel Levy has one of the itchiest trigger-fingers in the Premier League. But there is cause for optimism, starting with…
What the fan says...
Martin Cloake - Spurs author, season ticket holder and co-chair of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust (all views his own) - talks Tottenham.
Why they'll do well
…Harry Kane, who else? The Spurs striker’s goals last season – 21 in the Premier League, 31 in all competitions – contributed to 24 out of 64 points amassed by the Lilywhites, the biggest single-player points contribution in the league. If Spurs are to close the gap on Chelsea, much will depend on Kane avoiding second season syndrome and continuing to find the back of the net this term. And there’s no reason to suggest he won’t; after all, he has a full season under his belt, including match-winning performances against Arsenal and Chelsea and a goalscoring England debut. Starting this campaign as Spurs’ first-choice striker should hold no fears. It’s not just Kane who will benefit from another year of top-flight toil. In Danny Rose, Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason and Eric Dier, Tottenham have a spine of young players ready to make the transition from rookie squad members to regular first-team starters.
Why they'll do badly
Spurs aren’t great at the back. In fact, they’re rubbish. Last year only four teams conceded more goals than Tottenham and two of them – Burnley and Hull – were relegated. While the Cockerels will hope to remedy this leaky backline with defensive recruits Toby Alderweireld, Kieran Trippier and Kevin Wimmer, it may not be enough as it’s the system that needs tweaking. At times last season, Pochettino’s high press left the back four horribly exposed. With the Argentine unlikely to tone down his aggressive playing style – it’s his trademark after all – it could be another long season for the defence. Another problem could be the lack of genuine strength in depth. During Tim Sherwood’s last few months as manager, he described the squad as ‘much of a muchness’. A classic Sherwood soundbite, but it rang true: Spurs lack star quality beyond a couple of players. Time to reach for the chequebook…
The big questions...
- Kevin Wimmer (Cologne)
- Kieran Trippier (Burnley)
- Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid)
- Lewis Holtby (Hamburg)
- Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande)
- Etienne Capoue (Watford)
- Younes Kaboul (Sunderland)
- Benjamin Stambouli (PSG)
- Vlad Chiriches (Napoli)
- Brad Friedel (Retired)
1) Can they sort out their home form?
They’ll need to. Spurs had only the joint-eighth-best home record in the league last season, taking 33 points to Arsenal’s 41 and Manchester United’s 44. If that’s what top-four home form looks like, Tottenham need to up their game and find a way of breaking down teams that sit deep and play on the break.
2) Does Pochettino have a Plan B?
SWAAARM! That, to put it very simply, is the Pochettino way. The trouble is when this all-action style doesn’t work – either against teams who don’t play out from the back or when fatigue sets in – there isn’t an alternative. Whether it’s two up top or ditching the inverted wingers, Mauricio needs to mix it up.
3) Can Levy stick by his manager?
This is a big season for the Spurs chairman. He needs to demonstrate the sort of patience he’s lacked so far during the majority of his 14 years in N17. The last thing this young team needs is another change of manager midway through the season. Sack Poch and the fans will turn.
Key player: Christian Eriksen
If it isn’t Kane, it’s Christian Eriksen. This sums up how opposition teams viewed Tottenham in the second half of last season, looking to shut down Spurs by nullifying the threat of Kane (the main goalscoring threat) and Eriksen (the main creative threat). And it worked. With so much pressure on the England striker to reproduce his form from last season, it’s vital the Dane steps up for a full campaign. He demonstrated his qualities with match-winning goals against Hull, Everton, Swansea and Leicester last time out. But what did all these games have in common? They all came within a four-week period. Time to do it from August to May, Christian.
What we'll be saying come May
Spurs miss out on the top four again. But next year…
To see where FourFourTwo think Tottenham will finish – along with a bespoke two-page preview – get our special new season issue, out Saturday 1 August.