After qualifying for the Champions League in 09/10, Harry Redknapp raised the expectations of a hungry fan base to perhaps impossible levels. A great debut season on Europe’s biggest stage added further evidence that Spurs are a club on the rise but ultimately it was free spending Man City who joined the elite three teams in this year’s Champions League.
Spurs seem to be sprinting just to keep up with the title contenders and with their free spending ways of previous years apparently a thing of the past, they suddenly look like a team fighting for a top-six finish rather than genuine title, or even Champions League, contenders
Like their neighbors at the Emirates, the off season has been more about who might be leaving White Hart Lane, than bringing in new faces, with Luka Modric capturing the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs. Brad Friedel is the only arrival, a strange choice for the player given the presence of Gomes and Cudici, though it isn’t a stretch to see the American between the sticks sooner rather than later given Gomes’ penchant for the odd howler.
The quality and depth of talent at Redknapp’s disposal is not in question and if he can get full seasons out of Van der Vaart, King and Dawson, it will greatly help the stability and consistency of the side. Better results against the league’s top sides (1 win in 8 against the top four last season) will also be a necessity if Spurs are to once again qualify for Europe’s premier competition.
Manager: Harry Redknapp
Last season: 5th
2010/11 odds: 66/1
In: Brad Friedel (Aston Villa free)
Out: Jamie O’Hara (Wolves, £5m), Jonathan Woodgate (Stoke, free)
Keys to the season
One of the key factors for Spurs’ season will be their training staff who have their work cut out for them to keep King, Dawson, Defoe and Van der Vaart fully fit and on the field. Players like Jenas and Kaboul provide good depth but the team can be shaky at the back without their first choice pairing while getting overly reliant on Modric when Van der Vaart is missing from the team.
Settling on a front line and finding a goalscorer to compliment the talented midfield is paramount. On paper at least, Spurs seem to have enough up top but Defoe, Crouch and Pavlyuchenko have all had their struggles over the past couple of seasons while Keane seems to be totally frozen out in their plans. A return to 15 goal form for Defoe would be a huge boost for the new season.
More consistent play between the sticks is needed to give this defense a solid foundation, and that should be achieved this year, either by a refocused Gomes or the ever-solid Friedel, who arrives from Villa. The back four can be categorized as solid rather than elite, but in Michael Dawson they have one of the league’s better centre backs, supplemented by experienced veterans like King, Gallas and Kaboul. There is also good depth at full back with Kyle Walker added to the conversation following a highly successful spell at Villa last season.
Few, if any, teams in the league can match Spurs’ strength and depth in midfield with pace, guile, creativity and strength all in abundance. One of the last teams to play with two wingers, Spurs let Bale and Lennon loose at every opportunity with both able to terrorise the sturdiest of full back on their day. We all know about Modric and Van der Vaart and their importance to this side cannot be underestmated. Van der Vaart’s passing and goals were essential last season while Modric so often provides the heartbeat to keep Spurs’ passing in sync. The emergence of Sandro towards the end of last season gave the team a new sense of balance and he seems to fir the team’s philosophy more than the powerful but sometimes crude Palacios.
Up top there is talent but it isn’t clear how any of the options can operate in this fluid system. Crouch’s style can sometimes stifle the team’s movement and slow down the play, while Defoe sometimes lacks the strength to provide an outlet when the team are pushed back into their own half. Pavlyuchenko had a very good goalscoring record last season though he too has flattered to deceive too often in a Spurs shirt.
It’s tough to pick between Modric and Van der Vaart as both bring so much to the team. Modric’s ability to dictate the pace of the game is invaluable and his effortless passing and understanding of the game can quickly spring defense into attack. That said, Van der Vaart scored or assisted 22 goals in his 28 appearances, always seeming to bail his team out when they needed him most. If he can build on last season and improve his fitness then Spurs could be an even tougher prospect to defend.
Everton (H), Man Utd (A), Man City (H), Wolves (A), Liverpool (H), Wigan (A), Arsenal (H), Newcastle (A)
Redknapp will get a couple of early opportunities to measure his side’s progress against the best the league has to offer. If they are to challenge for European qualification once again, beating the likes of Everton and Liverpool at White Hart Lane will be essential so the pressure will be on to get out of the gates early.
Where will they finish?
With Man City going from strength-to-strength and Liverpool looking rejuvenated under Dalglish, it is hard to foresee Spurs snatching another Champions League spot. They still look to be some way ahead of remaining chasing pack though, so the top-6 still looks to be in reach for Redknapp’s side . . . 6th