Premier League 2018-19 preview No17: Tottenham Hotspur

Mauricio Pochettinos side risk being undercooked for another season of change that, nonetheless, requires more progress

Aston Villa

Guardian writers predicted position: 4th (NB: this is not necessarily Nick Amess prediction but the average of our writers tips)

Last seasons position: 3rd

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Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 14-1

The cranes, each one smartly painted in the clubs colours and displaying a flag of the famous cockerel crest, still soar above the N17 skyline; nearby cafes, readying themselves for the thrum of match day once again, are kept busy in the meantime by the hundreds of construction workers rushing against deadline. By 15 September everything will be more or less ready and Tottenham, back from their exile around the North Circular Road, will begin their new era in Londons biggest club stadium with a lunchtime fixture against Liverpool.

That will, inescapably, frame whatever Mauricio Pochettino and his squad achieve in the next nine months. They need only to glance over at Arsenal for an object lesson in how moving to a new ground can arrest a teams development; it will be some time, as Pochettino acknowledges, before millions of pounds rain from the sky but at least they know what they are getting into on the pitch.

After a stodgy goalless draw with Swansea last September brought up three league games without a win at Wembley, the manager suggested talk of a rocky acclimatisation risked self-fulfilling and that Spurs needed to move on. They dropped only seven more home points all season; familiarity was, in the end, barely an issue for a highly accomplished cadre of footballers that is used to simply turning up and doing the job.

On the surface there is little reason to suggest the same should not be true upon their latest move. Yet Tottenham do run the risk of another slow start this time around, even if some of the reasons differ. The fact nine of their players were involved in the World Cup through to the final weekend speaks glowingly of the quality Pochettino has amassed; it also presents a short-term problem given that they only returned to training on Monday, meaning the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris will need careful assessment before decisions are taken about their involvement at Newcastle on Saturday.

Spurs

They should be ready before long but it would have helped if, by now, Tottenham had been able to bed in some reinforcements. Pochettino believes new signings take six or seven months to adapt; it is a warning he has sounded before, and if Daniel Levy is banking on the floodgates opening in the final hours of a clogged-up transfer window then he is certainly taking past levels of brinkmanship up several notches.

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Tottenhams squad rather than an already outstanding set of first-choice selections needs to be better if they are to build on a third successive finish inside the top three. Pochettino has struggled to find players who can straddle the line between backup and credible starter for a top-four team; it was therefore encouraging to see Jack Grealish, who has the potential to shoulder some of Christian Eriksens creative burden, in his sights although the noises from Aston Villa are that no deal will be entertained.

Anything else probably hinges on receiving last-minute funds for Toby Alderweireld, Victor Wanyama or Mousa Dembl; all three had been expected to leave during the summer. These are necessarily straitened times but Pochettino may not find it easy to toe the line. Now, we are going to try again to do things early, he saidin December of his expectations for this window. If we cannot again, I am going to say: Come on, we could not again.

Mauricio
Mauricio Pochettino and Harry Kane have both signed new long-term contracts at Tottenham. Photograph: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images

If Spurs find themselves obliged to proceed with their existing tools there is the consolation that the most important parts are going nowhere. Pochettino and Kane had been linked to Real Madrid but signed new long-term contracts before the World Cup. With these two in place any season should seem alive with possibility.

There is certainly little to fault in a front four of Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son Heung-min. The South Korean will miss much of the first month due to the Asian Games but Tottenham are relatively well covered in wide areas with Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura, who scored twice in a 4-1 pre-season win over Roma and looks set to impress in his first full campaign.

The elephant in the room, as ever, is what happens if anything befalls Kane. Son has the quality to operate as a false nine, as he did a few times last season, but it is no long-term solution. For all that Tottenham have developed collectively under Pochettino, Kanes 30 league goals in 2017-18 were his highest proportion yet of the teams total a quality alternative is badly needed.

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If the midfield needs freshening up then Luke Amos, a 21-year-old who was barely on the radar before a series of excellent performances in the International Champions Cup, may be given his chance. There is hope, too, that Harry Winks will be available soon having recovered from ankle surgery. Two years after his first-team breakthrough it is still hard to tell quite how good Winks, a very tidy, technical player, actually is but there would be a clear opportunity to assert himself in an area where Spurs options are, again, hardly endless.

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The rapid strides made by both Trippier and Ben Davies, considered back-ups two seasons ago, are a tribute to Pochettinos player development, and the defence should get by unless there is any dramatic late change in Alderweirelds situation. Cameron Carter-Vickers, another to impress recently, may stay put as an extra centre-back.

Spurs

Early meetings with Manchester United and, on that red-letter day in north London, Liverpool will provide important indications of how well-placed Tottenham are to push on with the current crop. There will be intrigue and perhaps concern as to how quickly Jrgen Klopps reinforced side, who finished only two points adrift of Spurs in 2017-18, settle down as well as the adeptness with which Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri recalibrate their new teams elsewhere in the city.

In an ideal world it may be enough to chalk this season off as one in which a fourth consecutive Champions League qualification would suffice. That no longer cuts it, though, and Pochettino was not only speaking for himself when he said that for me, it is not enough simply to sit at Europes top table.

The clear implication is that the time has come, in his fifth season, to win a major trophy. Bridging the gap with Manchester Cityby any significant amount looks a long shot; on the continent they have beaten the best only to be outsmarted by Juventus, and the easiest way to satisfy Pochettinos urge may be to banish the ghosts of that crushing FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United. Otherwise they may have to content themselves with the strange feeling of treading water at a rarefied level, roared on from their gleaming new stands and waiting a little longer for the day when, like those navy-blue-and-white cranes, they get to tower above everyone else.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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