Premier League 2015-16 preview No 5: Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham kick off their season against Manchester United on Saturday. (All pictures Reuters)

Tottenham kick off their season against Manchester United on Saturday. (All pictures Reuters)

Predicted position: Sixth

Last season’s position: Fifth

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 100-1

The tweet from the Tottenham Hotspur account carried the hint of satisfaction. “We are delighted to announce that we have nothing else to announce today,” it read. “Have a great evening.”

The eighth of July was, indeed, a big day for the club.
It had begun with the confirmation of the signing of Toby Alderweireld from Atlético Madrid for £11.4m – a move to underline the recalibration in defence Mauricio Pochettino had wanted.

There were times during Pochettino’s debut season at the helm when the team looked horribly shaky at the back. Any manager, let alone one who played at centre-half for Argentina, would be unhappy with a record of 53 goals against in 38 league fixtures. Only four sides conceded more in the Premier League last time out.

Alderweireld, however, was merely the hors d’oeuvre. With a very large drum roll, the chairperson, Daniel Levy, detailed the updated plans for the club’s new £400m stadium, which will be built adjacent to the existing White Hart Lane site.

It was revealed that Levy had cut a deal with the NFL to stage at least two American football matches every season for 10 years at the ground, which will feature a snazzy retractable pitch. Underneath the grass will be an artificial surface that will be used for the American football and other enterprises, such as concerts.

The headline item, undoubtedly, was the detail that the architect, Populous, had finessed the original design by KSS architects as part of what is known as the peer review process, to bump up the projected capacity from 56 250 to 61 000.

When Levy first commissioned the plans for the new stadium in 2007, there was talk at KSS and BuroHappold, the structural engineering firm who were engaged and remain on the job, that his most urgent, single requirement was a capacity of 60 001. In other words, one seat bigger than Arsenal’s new-build Emirates Stadium.

Levy has also been consumed by creating the ultimate match-day experience, with seats as close to the pitch as possible and, as KSS made their design tighter, so the capacity was reined in at 56 250. Populous, though, have tweaked and squeezed on the same stadium footprint and, with a clutch of alterations – most notably, the decision to remove all club and corporate seats from the ends behind the goals – they have succeeded in getting up to 61 000, subject to planning permission. The club will put in again for this in the autumn.

The stadium has become Levy’s obsession. It has been on his mind since 2001, when he first came into the club and the journey to get this far has been fraught. Levy has seen Arsenal plan, construct and spend nine seasons at the Emirates and, more recently, West Ham United receive the golden egg that is the Olympic Stadium.

It is fair to say that Levy has played the long game but, after all of the soap opera twists and turns, he can now look forward to Tottenham luxuriating in the biggest club venue in London. They already have the plushest training ground, which opened in 2012, and it can be said that Tottenham’s longer-term future looks both secure and extremely exciting.

Here is the thing, however. Tottenham will not move into the stadium until 2018-19, by which time they will have spent the previous season playing their matches at a temporary home, most likely Milton Keynes’ Stadiummk – they have said to Tottenham that they would be happy to accommodate them. Tottenham’s preference would be to remain in London, ideally at Wembley, but, essentially, no one wants them in the capital because of problems related to policing, rivalries and capacity.

Therefore, Tottenham find themselves in familiar territory – in a state of transition, putting down the building blocks for what they hope will be a glorious future but with the need to show patience and confronted by various issues in the here and now.

By any barometer, Pochettino’s first season had to be considered as a success. He led the team to a fifth-placed finish in the league and the Capital One Cup final, which they lost 2-0 to Chelsea , while overseeing changes to the playing style and restructuring behind the scenes. Paul Mitchell was taken from Southampton, Pochettino’s previous club, to be the head of recruitment and there was major surgery to the scouting department. Rob Mackenzie arrived from Leicester City to be Mitchell’s No2.

The season’s high points were the home wins over Arsenal and Chelsea and, more generally, there were improvements in conditioning and injury prevention. There was also the heartening faith in the club’s home-grown players and, in Harry Kane, who emerged to sensational effect , there was one of the feel-good stories of the season.

The Holy Grail of a Champions League finish always looked beyond them, though, particularly as they were sapped by their Europa League commitments and no one can say with any certainty that it now looks closer – and not only because they face what Pochettino will say is another unwanted Europa League campaign . Tottenham fans have watched with trepidation as their top-four rivals have strengthened on the transfer market.

The biggest worry for them at the time of writing concerns Pochettino’s options up front. With Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado being shuffled towards the exit – neither has played any part in pre-season – Kane is the lone senior striker at the manager’s disposal, although Pochettino does say that Soldado remains a part of his plans. Kane is a player who has only just turned 22 and has six months of experience as a Premier League regular to his name, albeit a wonderful six months. He cannot be expected to shoulder the responsibility alone.

There has been skulduggery behind the scenes regarding Kane, with agents manoeuvring to lure him into signing with them. Football can be a murky business. There has been a link to Manchester United and Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairperson at Old Trafford, would surely love to have him.

The good news for Tottenham, however, is that Kane is interested only in the season ahead with them. He knows that after his 31-goal heroics last time out he will be a marked man and his focus is simply on maintaining his levels and avoiding any second-season dip.

The back-up will arrive and Tottenham are exploring their options, with Javier Hernández, Saido Berahino and Timo Werner among those on the wanted list. When Pochettino spoke towards the end of last season of the need to be “smarter and quicker than our rivals in the summer market,” he cannot have had this in mind.

The club have, at least, moved swiftly on their defensive targets, with Alderweireld, who was snatched from the clutches of Southampton, where he spent last season on loan, following the signings of Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier.

Alderweireld will partner his Belgium team-mate Jan Vertonghen in central defence, with the curiosity being that the pair occupy the full-back positions for their national team – Alderweireld on the right; Vertonghen the left. There is the belief at Tottenham that the Belgians ought to be the perfect partnership, although that, obviously, remains to be seen.

Wimmer, a £4.3m arrival from FC Köln , will provide sturdy back-up in the middle, while Trippier will compete with Kyle Walker for the right-back slot. Trippier, who impressed for Burnley last season, looks to be a bargain at £3.5m but Walker is expected to start as the first choice. Eric Dier, a Pochettino favourite – partly because of the manner in which he stood up to Chelsea’s Diego Costa in the Capital One Cup final – offers another option in central defence, while he has also been tried in defensive midfield during pre-season.

It is clear that Tottenham have to add further before the closure of the transfer window, with one or two strikers and another option in wide midfield essential. A commanding central midfielder would not go amiss either. Arguably the priority will be to ensure that the goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, remains at the club.

The France captain excelled again last season and it has reached the point where he makes a couple of jaw-dropping saves in every game as a matter of course. He is fed up at the lack of Champions League football at Tottenham , however, and he wants to move to a club that will play at the elite level.

Intrigue clings to Lloris’s situation in that, when he signed a new five-year contract last July to replace the one that would expire in 2016, he made it clear to Levy that he would want to consider his options if the club did not qualify for the Champions League. Two weeks after Lloris had re-signed, Tottenham bought Michel Vorm, who was Holland’s third-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup.

To Lloris’s mind, he had a gentleman’s agreement with Levy that he would be allowed to leave, for a sensible price, should Tottenham fail to reach the Champions League. Tottenham contest this version; they maintain he is not for sale and one simple thought occurs – why on earth did Lloris not get it in writing, particularly when he was committing until 2020? Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric are among those who will tell you verbal arrangements with Levy are not always binding.

Lloris would be a target for Manchester United, in the event that they lost David De Gea to Real Madrid, while he has endured the added complication of the freakish wrist injury he suffered on his holidays at the end of June. It is a little mysterious, with Pochettino saying only that it happened “close to the swimming pool”. Lloris has completed all of the conditioning work in pre-season and he made a surprise return as a substitute against Milan on Wednesday evening in the Audi Cup. It appears he could be ready for the opening fixture on Saturday, which is against United at Old Trafford.

Tottenham have shed plenty of their unwanted players – Younès Kaboul, Vlad Chiriches, Etienne Capoue, Benjamin Stambouli, Paulinho , Lewis Holtby – and more will follow, including the winger, Aaron Lennon. He has been banished to train with the under-21s and it should be said Pochettino is ruthless when he feels a player’s face no longer fits.

It has been noticeable how the profile of signings has changed since Pochettino came to the club. Young, ideally British, talents with potential resale value have been made a priority and few Tottenham managers have shown themselves to be as committed to the club’s youth system products as Pochettino.

He gave Ryan Mason his breakthrough and he had four academy players in the lineup for the Capital One Cup final – Kane, Mason, Nabil Bentaleb and Andros Townsend – plus Danny Rose, who started out at Leeds United’s academy before moving to Tottenham’s at 17.

Pochettino trains every week with a handful of academy players in the first-team group and there are hopes the midfielders Harry Winks and Josh Onomah will be the next to establish themselves. There is also excitement around the 17-year-old centre-half, Cameron Carter-Vickers .

It will be interesting to see whether the attacking midfielder, Alex Pritchard, can make an impact, after his fine season on loan at Brentford – he has not played in pre-season because of injury – and, ditto, Dele Alli, the 19-year-old midfielder, who was signed from MK Dons in January for £5m before being loaned back for the remainder of the season. Alli looked promising against Real Madrid in the Audi Cup on Tuesday.

The questions are numerous. Can Christian Eriksen and Bentaleb continue to improve? Is there is sufficient leadership in the team? Will Erik Lamela become less frustrating and more decisive? Much, however, will depend on how the club exit the transfer window. - © Guardian News and Media 2015

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