2017-18 club preview: Tottenham

Football: Acid test for Tottenham's title credentials

Tottenham will be relying heavily on star duo Dele Alli (left) and Harry Kane this season. Kane was last season's Golden Boot winner with 29 goals.
Tottenham will be relying heavily on star duo Dele Alli (left) and Harry Kane this season. Kane was last season's Golden Boot winner with 29 goals.PHOTO: REUTERS

With no new faces and Wembley as their temporary home ground, bridesmaids tag looks set to stick The English Premier League will kick off its 25th season this week, with competition for the title fiercer than ever. Here are the teams who will define the season, as they seek the elusive edge to land the ultimate prize come May.

LONDON • While their rivals have spent vast sums in the summer transfer market, Tottenham Hotspur will enter the new Premier League campaign relying on virtually the same players who pushed Chelsea so hard in last season's title race.

It is often said that teams with real ambitions cannot afford to stand still, yet there is a strong argument that Tottenham's refusal to enter the market place is testament to the quality already at manager Mauricio Pochettino's disposal.

Tottenham did sell England right-back Kyle Walker to Manchester City for around £50 million (S$88.6 million), but the spine of the side remains the same one that finished with 86 points and 86 goals last season - both club records in the Premier League.

While selling Walker to a title rival raised questions about Tottenham's aspirations, few clubs would have rejected such huge money for a player who was coming under pressure for his place last season from Kieran Trippier.

When last season concluded, there were suggestions that the likes of gifted England midfielder Dele Alli, Golden Boot-winning striker Harry Kane and Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen could be prised away by some of Europe's biggest clubs.

The fact they all seem content to be part of Pochettino's masterplan means Tottenham could again mount a credible challenge to the league's big-spenders.

"Why not? They have a brilliant first XI and you wouldn't swop that for anyone," former Spurs midfielder Micky Hazard said.

  • TRANSFERS IN

    • None

    OUT

    • Kyle Walker (Man City): £50 million (S$88.6 million)

    • Nabil Bentaleb (Schalke): £17m • Clinton N'jie (Marseille): £6.1m

    • Federico Fazio (Roma): £2.8m

    • Luke McGee (Portsmouth): Undisclosed

    • Connor Ogilvie (Gillingham): Loan

    • Josh Onomah (Aston Villa): Loan

    KEY FIXTURES

    Aug 20: Chelsea (home)

    Sept 9: Everton (away)

    Oct 21: Liverpool (h)

    Oct 28: Man United (a)

    Nov 18: Arsenal (a)

    Dec 16: Man City (a)

    Jan 13: Everton (h)

    Jan 31: Man United (h)

    Feb 3: Liverpool (a)

    Feb 10: Arsenal (h)

    March 31: Chelsea (a)

    April 14: Man City (h)

"If they could play that every week, they would have an unbelievable chance for the title, although we know that is not the case. But I don't think any of the other clubs at the top will be expecting Tottenham to fall apart this season."

There certainly appears to be a solidity about Tottenham, with Hugo Lloris in goal and the Belgian central defensive duo of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld forming the foundation of a rearguard that leaked only 26 goals last term.

With left-back Danny Rose back from injury and the mercurial Erik Lamela returning after missing virtually all of last season, Pochettino should have enough options even if there are no late additions in the transfer window.

There are some concerns for Tottenham, however. They lack the game-changing options on the bench that the likes of Chelsea, City and Manchester United will have this season, so their margin for error is less than their rivals'.

"Chelsea brought on (Cesc) Fabregas, (Diego) Costa and (Eden) Hazard in last season's FA Cup semi-final when Spurs were dominating," Hazard, 57, added.

"Tottenham's back-up could be stronger.

"But they won't panic. One signing would change it."

The biggest unknown, however, will be the Wembley effect.

Last season, at their now-demolished White Hart Lane stadium, Tottenham were unbeaten, dropping only four points.

With their new home ground expected to be ready by 2019, they will play at Wembley - an arena in which Spurs have struggled in recent years, notably in the Champions League - this season.

Recreating the atmosphere off the pitch and intensity on it - two key ingredients to their home form last season - will be Pochettino's greatest challenge.

If they can make Wembley, for all its red seats, feel like home for a season, then the bookmakers' fourth favourites could again be in the top-four mix, and perhaps even spring a surprise and land their first English title since 1961.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2017, with the headline 'Acid test of title credentials'. Print Edition | Subscribe