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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Pochettino's Tottenham squad face short recovery span from World Cup exertions to achieve goals

With the pressure on, the heroes of Russia have to bounce back to Premier League life quickly

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino faces a difficult start to the season. Action Images via Reuters
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino faces a difficult start to the season. Action Images via Reuters

No club in world football had more players involved in the last weekend of the World Cup than Tottenham Hotspur.

That is both a feather in the cap of Tottenham, but also a pointer to one of the factors that might constrain the North Londoners at the beginning of a domestic season of shimmering new horizons but many uncertainties.

First, there is the fatigue. Harry Kane finished his summer with England as owner of the Golden Boot in Russia, but looked a little tired by the end of the tournament, as well he might after 61 matches and 52 goals in 11 months for club and country.

Meanwhile, Hugo Lloris has a World Cup winners medal to his name, but if you detected a hint of mental tiredness in his momentary loss of concentration in the Moscow final, when Lloris let Mario Mandzukic intercept a simple pass out from goal, and to then score for Croatia, it was understandable.

Lloris had over the previous 10 months captained a Tottenham side - who expect their goalkeeper to command a broad, long space behind a high back line - through a sapping season that took in a see-saw Uefa Champions League last-16 tie and confirmed their top-four finish only on the penultimate day.

He then assumed senior responsibility, as skipper, for a very young France through the World Cup that excelled and took home the trophy in Russia.

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Lloris’s most reliable defensive marshalls at Tottenham, the Belgians Jan Vertonghen and the restless Toby Alderweireld had a demanding summer with their country, third-placed finishers in Russia, and Mousa Dembele was also involved in the Belgium campaign.

A quartet of Kane’s compatriots will only return to club duty from their post-World Cup adventure with England a few days before the Premier League kicks off. Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Dele Alli and Eric Dier may be proud of being part of the best England campaign at an away tournament since 1990, but they will still be feeling the effort it entailed in their muscles and in their minds.

Add to all this, the issue of a major relocation, to the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium in September, and there is plenty that Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager, has to contemplate and organise as seeks to continue the club’s progress towards true heavyweight status in the Premier League.

That progress is clearly something Pochettino believes in. Witness his putting his name to a new five-year deal at the end of last season. It is a progress dramatically visible on the North London skyline, where the new arena, extending into the site of the old White Hart Lane, nears completion, ready - so the builders have assured the club - for the home match against Liverpool in the middle of September.

The capacity is a proud 62,000-plus, way ahead of the Lane, which seated a little over 35,000.

A post shared by Harry Kane (@harrykane) on

Tottenham will expect that their brand of zesty, dynamic football of the Lloris-Kane era so far will keep the expanded arena full and keep the club’s Champions League bounty coming in, to pay off the costs of the construction.

That is where Pochettino is under pressure. Tottenham are this season expected to attain at least a fourth successive top-four finish, while nervously aware that the London clubs who finished fifth and sixth, Chelsea, and Arsenal, in 2017-18 have both done more urgent transfer business than Spurs have during pre-season trading, and that Liverpool, who finished below Spurs, in fourth spot, have splashed out more than €200 million (Dh849.6m) in new recruits.

Pochettino expressed his regrets at the new, tighter deadline of August 9 imposed on the English transfer window at the request of a majority of Premier League clubs, but, equally, he has faith in the club’s youth academy to provide a flow of fresh talent.

Some may be needed. Besides the late returnees after their extended Russian experience, Son Min-Heung, the Korean striker, will miss an early portion of the campaign while on duty for his county at the Asian Games and midfielder Victor Wanyama has suffered a knee problem which may delay his start.

Yet for all the downsides, Spurs may benefit more than any Premier League club from their players' engagement with the World Cup.

Their England footballers, all of them young enough to imagine their best years are still in front of them, had their self-belief boosted this summer, and Pochettino may even have learned a little more, watching England, about, say, Trippier’s effectiveness with a dead-ball, or Alli’s versatility across roles between midfield and attack.

Tottenham have much to look forward to, but causes for anxiety, too, in the short-term.