Season Preview: Tottenham Hotspur

August 10, 2012 in Premier League

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Last season saw Tottenham end the season as a ‘top four’ club for the second time, and even though they finished above Chelsea, the West Londoners’ triumph in the Champions League cost Spurs the final qualification spot for perhaps the most prestigious club competition on the planet. With Harry Redknapp’s man management skills and his astute dealings within the transfer market, Tottenham have genuinely been propelled into the top echelon of English football – which makes missing out on the Champions League a very bitter pill to swallow, as they would have fancied themselves to have had another prolonged adventure in Europe as they did a few years ago. However, Harry’s gone and the former Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas has arrived, bringing with him a new mentality and style of football that might just work a little better for him at Spurs than it did at Stamford Bridge.

The famous 4-2-3-1 formation employed by AVB while at Chelsea and Porto has been in use again during Tottenham’s preseason, but it seems that the players still need a little more time to get used to it – particularly the defence. This was quite evident with LA Galaxy’s equaliser, as the defence were caught out by a diagonal ball as they tried to push up to maintain the high line that has become synonymous with this formation. They were also exposed against New York, as a ball over the top cut the defence in two, which left Jan Vertonghen struggling to deal with Tim Cahill’s run into the box, eventually crashing into the former Everton player to concede a penalty. Chelsea had pretty much the same problem, but their centre-backs lacked pace and were unable to recover in such situations, so for this reason, you would have to say that the more mobile Kaboul and Vertonghen will have more success than Terry and Luiz, as long as they form an understanding with each other early on in the season. Apart from that, you can’t really look past Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker as their first choice full-backs.

The other position which is extremely significant in AVB’s system is the advanced playmaker role. It is a well-known fact that Villas-Boas likes to put players in their preferred and strongest positions, so it seems unlikely that there will be space on the pitch for both Rafael van der Vaart and new recruit Gylfi Sigurdsson unless one of them is played slightly out of position. Contrary to his own methods, he used Hulk, a striker, on the right wing while at Porto – a move which eventually paid off - so you would feel that van der Vaart could be pushed out wide but that would mean Lennon or Bale sitting out – whichever way you look at it, someone will miss out.

So now we come to the elephant in the room – Luka Modric. Is he staying in the white shirt of Tottenham, or is he switching to the white of Real Madrid? He has not hidden his desire to join a club that is challenging for the Champions League year in year out, and after the whole Chelsea saga of last summer, the last thing Spurs fans wanted was a repeat of the endless speculation around the Croatian. There are absolutely no doubts about his ability, but after refusing to train, question marks have been raised over his professionalism. AVB says that he would like to hold on to the wantaway star, but this episode is not too dissimilar to Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit from United – you can’t keep a player at a club if he wants to be elsewhere, especially if his preferred destination is Real Madrid. Either way, this needs to be addressed and sorted out as soon as possible.

Vertonghen and Sigurdsson are Tottenham’s main signings so far and signed for a combined fee of just under £20m, and you would have to say that both of them seem like pretty good deals. Vertonghen has been plying his trade in Holland admirably, turning heads around Europe with his commanding performances but may need to get used to the extra physicality involved in English football. Sigurdsson, on the other hand, has experience of the English game with both Reading, and more notably, with Swansea, where he seemed to be the focus of every attack. His familiarity with the passing game, his awareness 40 yards from goal, and the vision to find a striker with a killer ball will be the reason Spurs signed him, and at 22 years of age, he will get even better.

Tottenham need a striker, maybe even two. Harry Kane and Jermain Defoe seem to be the only out-and-out strikers left at the club, so this is an area that must be addressed. With Adebayor’s previously expected transfer now in the balance, Spurs may have to look down other avenues. Links to Loic Remy, Fernando Llorente, and even talks of a possible White Hart Lane return for Dimitar Berbatov have not materialised into anything as of yet and with the season approaching, Spurs have to act fast! It seems the emphasis is on who would replace Modric should he leave.  Having already played under AVB at Porto, Joao Moutinho is being touted as the favourite to fill the Croatian’s boots.

So where will they finish? They shouldn’t feel too disheartened at the prospect finishing outside the top four this season given the players that United and Chelsea have brought in. They will have a season long tussle with their North London neighbours, Arsenal for the 4th spot again, but realistically, finishing 5th wouldn’t be a failure at all. At the very least, they will have to finish in the top six or AVB could be on his way to the job centre again. 5th place.