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Thursday, 15 August 2013 00:00

Tottenham season preview: Improving Spurs still lack stability needed to break into top four

The potential loss of Bale and the time needed to bed in new signings mean this could be a transitional season for the Londoners
by Greg Leedham

Football comment: As with so many Premier League clubs, Tottenham enter the new season under a cloud of uncertainty. The summer transfer window, which does not shut until September 2, denies supporters the knowledge of who exactly will be pulling on the colours of their team in the coming months and, ultimately, lessens fans’ ability to predict their side’s fortunes.

Spurs — much like Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United — may look a little different come September 14 when they play Norwich, their first league match after the closing of the window.

One notable absence from their starting line-up could be Gareth Bale, who has been linked with a world-record switch to Real Madrid all summer in one of the most tedious and long-running transfer sagas in recent memory.

The consensus is that Bale wants to go while club chairman Daniel Levy is intent on squeezing every last euro out of the Spanish giants, who, if reports are to be believed, appear to be finally cooling on the transfer.

Retaining Bale may be hailed as a victory for Tottenham by some but it could prove to be a Pyrrhic one should the Welshman stay but have his mind elsewhere for the next season and fail to produce his best form.

Conversely, selling Bale now could also be viewed as a mistake, given that manager Andre Villas-Boas will have minimal time to reinvest in his squad.

What is not in doubt is that the forward’s consistent brilliance over the course of last campaign — when he plundered 21 league goals, many of them spectacular — was integral to the north Londoners’ charge for a Champions League place.

Spurs again fell agonisingly short of qualification for Europe’s premier competition, despite sitting third and seven points clear of local rivals Arsenal at the beginning of March before a collapse of form saw them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Several theories have been offered for the club’s failure to finish in the top four despite, for the second season on the spin, looking odds-on to do just that.

Some fans blamed Villas-Boas for taking the Europa League too seriously and ultimately spreading his squad too thinly when the focus should have been solely on the league and the all-important lucrative Champions League.

Others, notably BBC pundit Pat Nevin, opined that Bale’s superb form had masked Tottenham’s deficiencies, propelling them to an unnatural position in the table.

Whatever the reason, Spurs face similar conundrums this term. Though they accrued a record Premier League points total last season, they will again need to negotiate the Europa League, starting with a play-off against Dinamo Tbilisi next week.

Should Villas-Boas maintain his admirable policy of fielding his best team in Europe’s second tier competition? Or would it be wise for him to treat it with contempt, as was the case with his predecessor Harry Redknapp?

Building a squad to deal with a packed calendar is therefore key and Villas-Boas appears to have added well to his squad over the summer.

Striker Roberto Soldado has arrived from Valencia for a club record fee, having scored 30 goals in 46 appearances for the Spanish club last season.

He will need to hit the ground running, especially if Jermain Defoe departs and Emmanuel Adebayor, who last term only managed eight goals in 34 appearances, continues to struggle for form.

Spurs, too, will hope that winger-cum-striker Nacer Chadli, signed from FC Twente, can chip in with the odd goal.

The midfield looks stronger, with the addition of Paulinho raising the prospect of the creation of an all-Brazilian shield, along with Sandro, to protect the back line.

In goal Spurs have a world-class keeper in Hugo Lloris, though in front of him stands a defence that lacks depth, especially after the surprising sale of Steven Caulker to Cardiff City.

The fitness of centre-backs Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson will be key if Tottenham’s depth is not going to be tested to the limit.

The Londoners’ biggest problem through the years has been a lack of continuity in terms of their manager and playing personnel.

With players coming and going, and everything still up in the air regarding Bale, it may be at least another year until Spurs settle and claim the holy grail of Champions League football.

Prediction: Fifth, though a successful Cup run is a strong possibility.
Key man: Jan Vertonghen. Tottenham’s best defender needs to stay fit to bolster a back line that looks a little lightweight.

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