Tottenham deserve seat at the top table but must overcome Wembley jitters
The team with the highest points total over the past two seasons have a new home for 2017/18 while White Hart Lane is redeveloped.
For a club who have accumulated more Premier League points than any other over the past two seasons, who have the highest concentration of regular England internationals, Tottenham Hotspur should hardly feel like outsiders in the top echelon of English football. Yet somehow, even after two tantalising title chases, they still do.
It’s the legacy of the long period when the top four, and thus the Uefa Champions League positions, tended to be occupied by a quartet of clubs that generally excluded Spurs, when the so-called Big Four of the Premier League meant Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool or Manchester City. Ask any of those and they would hardly regard the Tottenham of Mauricio Pochettino, the impressive manager of the North Londoners for the past three seasons, as middleweights, but Spurs do operate distinctly.
Tottenham fans feel that above all in July and the first half of August, when the division's big-spenders flex their financial muscles while Spurs apparently dip their toes tentatively in the shallower waters of the transfer market, if at all. The wage-structure and the spend on fees at Tottenham remains prudent in comparison with the Manchester giants, and with Chelsea. Their audit so far this summer window? Short: No significant hiring, and the headline move the departure of Kyle Walker, sold to Manchester City for over £50 million (Dh239m), a record-breaking sum for a right-back.
Walker has given Spurs real flair and athleticism along the right flank in the Pochettino era, but then so, when given his opportunity, has Kieran Trippier, whose greater accuracy as a crosser is a point in his favour when he talks of his double challenge now that he has the chance to establish the position as his own. First, Trippier, 26, wants to ensure Tottenham see the sale of Walker as money well banked; second, Trippier eyes the England right-back position, currently Walker’s domain.
“We have a lot of young players who represent the future of the England national team and they have the mentality of winners,” says Hugo Lloris, the Spurs and France captain, looking forward to a season that ends with a World Cup. The English core of the Spurs team means, in the countdown to Russia 2018, they will be under extra scrutiny. There's the complicity and understanding in the interplay of Dele Alli and Harry Kane, something the national team manager Gareth Southgate wants to build on, while another good season for Danny Rose at left-back should cement his status as his country’s first-choice.
Eric Dier, linked strongly with interest from Manchester United until they signed Nemanja Matic, needs to ensure his first XI role with England is not undermined by becoming the odd man out if Pochettino decides on a two-man central defence of the Belgians Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld and a central midfield pairing of Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele, or indeed a central midfield featuring Harry Winks, an impressive 21 year old, already capped by England and hopeful of making this a breakthrough campaign.
Given so many England players, it is curious that Spurs will go into 2017/18 amid so much talk of their apparently allergic reaction the national stadium. In their past nine matches at Wembley, which Tottenham used for their home matches in Europe last season, Spurs have won only once. That would not matter, nor cause such trembling among some supporters, except that, with their White Hart Lane site being completely redeveloped, Wembley will be their home throughout the next 10 months.
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It is the sort of disruption that can destabilise even the most consistent and stable teams. And Tottenham’s stability, a by-product of Pochettino’s careful development of individuals with long futures ahead of them, is an undoubted asset. The manager has engendered a strong degree of loyalty from his players, although the departure of Walker is a reminder that personal ambition – and indeed the promise of a hefty pay rise – can lure anybody away. Spurs have finished third, and then second in the past two seasons, and players who have twice seen the title slip away in the last weeks of a campaign will not want a repeat of that, or to feel there is glass ceiling above them.
Kane, who has scored 54 goals in the Premier League in the past two years, is clearly the most potent weapon Spurs have up front, and Pochettino could use a better back-up than Vincent Janssen, signed a year ago and very much a work in progress, having scored just twice in his 24 league outings, many as a substitute, so far.
The manager knows a longer run in the Champions League than last season’s – Spurs crashed out after the group phase – is expected and so the depth of his squad will be tested. And he needs to make Wembley seem daunting not for his men but for the teams Spurs are hosting there.
Updated: August 9, 2017 12:28 PM