Tottenham Hotspur have come so close in each of the last two seasons to claiming their first English top flight championship in more than half a century. Spurs ended up seven points behind last year’s champions, Chelsea, following a third-place finish the year before. On paper, Tottenham were simply dominant: the most goals scored, the fewest goals conceded (therefore, best goal difference), and the fewest losses. Still, Spurs couldn’t do enough – too many draws resulted in too many points dropped in the season’s first couple months. Mauricio Pochettino must be wondering what he has to do to win a title in North London!
Harry Kane won the golden boot (again), Dele Alli won the PFA Young Player of the Year (again), and Tottenham made a habit of regularly scoring three of four goals every weekend. Their key players are still young, but Spurs haven’t made any signings yet this summer while losing right back Kyle Walker to Manchester City. Can this group possibly get any better than last year? Can they do better in Europe after a pair of ignominious exits in both the Champions League and Europa League last year? Can they adjust to playing a full season at Wembley? Tottenham performed poorly away from the cozy confines of White Hart Lane, which closed its doors for the final time in May. With a full slate of home games at England’s national stadium this year, Spurs will have to forget last season’s troubles there and make Wembley feel like home. Ultimately, this group of players needs to win something – the league title, a cup trophy, anything. I’m not sure how many more chances they’ll get before the European giants come calling for the likes of Dele and Kane.
2016-17 Record & Finish
26-8-4 (W-D-L), 86 points, 2nd in the Premier League
+60 GD (86 GF, 26 GA)
Mauricio Pochettino – 4th season with Tottenham
Ins and Outs
Nabil Bentaleb (£17.1 million to FC Schalke 04)
Federico Fazio (£2.88 million to Roma)
Clinton N’Jie (£6.3 million to Marseille)
Josh Onomah (on loan to Aston Villa)
Kyle Walker (£43.35 million to Manchester City)
Tottenham have more than enough talent to win the league. They’re a trendy pick to win it all this year. But they must do better at their temporary home for 2017-18, Wembley Stadium. Spurs played their European games there last season, with the following results: 2-1 loss to Monaco, 1-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen, 3-1 win over CSKA Moskva, and 2-2 draw with Gent – they lost the Europa League Round of 32 tie by a 3-2 aggregate scoreline. Was it the size of the pitch? Wembley’s dimensions are wider – though only slightly so – than a Premier League ground. Did that affect Tottenham’s ability to play their high pressing style effectively? That seems like a stretch to me. Was it the size of the stadium itself? Wembley can hold nearly three times as many spectators as White Hart Lane. Maybe that impacted the atmosphere, especially since the fans aren’t an arm’s length away from the action. Maybe the Tottenham players – many of whom are young and inexperienced on the European big stage – were in awe of the moment and the stadium itself. Maybe it was just a few poor results from a small sample size of games. Whatever the reason for Spurs’ rough time at Wembley, they have to be better at their new home away from their soon-to-be-built new home, if they want to win silverware this season.
Best Case Scenario
Believe it, Spurs fans – the first Premier League title since the 1960-61 season. In many other past seasons, 86 points would have been enough to win the league. Not last year, when Chelsea won a record 30 games en route to 93 points. If Tottenham can repeat last year’s performances, and turn a couple more draws into wins, there’s no reason they can’t rise to the top of the Premier League. This collection of players is hungry to win something, and their third time vying for the championship will be the charm. Kane, if he can stay healthy for a full season, could hit 30 goals this year. Dele Alli knocks in another 15 from midfield, and Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min keep scoring goals as well. The defense stays healthy, and Kieran Trippier proves to be an excellent full-time replacement for Walker at right back.
Worst Case Scenario
Another trophyless season would be bad for Pochettino’s men. They’ve come close to the title for two years running, and they lost the EFL Cup Final to Chelsea in 2015. I don’t see them dropping out of the top four, even if they prioritize the Champions League more than last season. If Spurs struggle to make Wembley feel like home, and if they don’t win anything this year, some of their young stars might get the itch to leave North London. Dele has already been linked with Barcelona; the Catalan giants now have an enormous amount of cash to spend after selling Neymar to PSG. I can’t imagine any more big names leaving this summer, but Tottenham’s key players might start moving around Europe next summer. That would signal the end of a bright era under Pochettino, albeit one without any trophies. If Tottenham can’t win the league with the group they have, you have to wonder if they’ll ever be good enough to do so.
If I were in charge for a day…
I’d have, probably, the easiest job in the league. I’d lobby for pay raises for Kane, Dele, Eriksen, and Son. I’d convert Eric Dier to a center back full time. I’d play a back three just about all the time, freeing up Trippier and Danny Rose to get forward and do damage as wing backs. I’d sell Moussa Sissoko after he flopped in his first season with Spurs. Then, I’d look to spend some of the money the club has brought in through player sales this summer: a midfield destroyer to play alongside Victor Wanyama, and a winger or two who can fizz crosses into the box for Kane and Dele to nod home.
It shouldn’t be hard to pick Tottenham’s best 11 each week. Here’s how I would line up for their season opener on Sunday at St. James’s Park:
Lloris; Trippier, Alderweireld, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama; Son, Dele, Eriksen; Kane
Tottenham are on the road for four of their first seven, including three of their four contests in September. Their home opener – at Wembley vs. Chelsea – should be an absolute cracker; it will be the game to watch in August.
Aug. 13 – at Newcastle
Aug. 20 – vs. Chelsea
Aug. 27 – vs. Burnley
Sept. 9 – at Everton
Sept. 16 – vs. Swansea
Sept. 23 – at West Ham
Sept. 30 – at Huddersfield Town
Our team previews wrap up tomorrow with defending champions Chelsea. The Blues have finished first, tenth, and first the last three seasons. What does 2017-18 have in store at Stamford Bridge?
As always, thanks for reading. Come on you Reds!