Tottenham season preview: Pochettino's Spurs look to bounce back from European heartbreak in perennial hunt for silverware
A key concern for Tottenham ahead of the 2019/20 season has been Christian Eriksen's non-compliance in any and all contract negotiations with the club
A challenging run of pre-season friendlies against some of the top teams in Europe went fairly well for Tottenham
The acquisition of Tanguy Ndombele for a club-record fee of £55.45 million in July gave Spurs fans something to be excited about, after months of inactivity in the transfer market, but there was even more to come
In the five years since he came to North London, Mauricio Pochettino, as a manager, has been everything Tottenham could have dreamt of, and a whole lot more
The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.
Perhaps no other Premier League club embodies this paradox quite as well as Tottenham Hotspur. Season after season, the North Londoners flirt with the prospect of finally manifesting their potential into something tangible, and season after season, they fall agonisingly short in their quest for silverware. But somehow, they continue to believe.
This season promises to be no different, and despite the heartbreak of their defeat in the Champions League final at the hands of Liverpool, Tottenham yet again find themselves cautiously optimistic ahead of a new season.
A solid pre-season under the belt
A challenging run of pre-season friendlies against some of the top teams in Europe went fairly well for Tottenham, with a couple of impressive wins over Real Madrid and Juventus, and two close defeats at the hands of Inter Milan and Manchester United. Spurs began their preparations for the new season with a belter of a win against Juventus, secured by a world-class last-minute winner from talismanic striker Harry Kane.
The victory was followed by a bit of a disheartening loss at the hands of domestic rivals Manchester United, but they bounced back almost immediately, winning on the trot against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Their final friendly of the season saw them take Inter Milan to penalties, which they lost 4-3.
After a couple of months spent facing Europe's elite, Tottenham will kick off their Premier League campaign on Saturday against slightly more modest opposition, in the shape of newly-promoted Aston Villa. The match shouldn't pose much of a problem to Spurs, but tougher tests await them in August, with trips to Manchester City and Arsenal on either side of a home fixture against Newcastle. If they do get through August relatively unharmed, however, they'll have a string of much easier fixtures to build their title campaign around.
Spurs spend big in summer splurge
Since the infamous free-spending summer of 2013, Tottenham have generally tried to minimise the number of outgoing and incoming players at the club. They are usually glacial in pursuit of new talent, and unflinching in their attempts to retain their key players. This combination often leads to Spurs having a very well-balanced — if slightly understaffed — team at their disposal.
Lately though, even by their standards, the team was starting to look a bit threadbare. Two successive windows without a single transfer, paired with the departures of Mousa Dembele and Kieran Trippier, had left Spurs in dire need of reinforcements, and the general consensus was that something needed to be done. And boy did they go ahead and do it.
By all accounts, it was a wonderful transfer window for Spurs. Surprisingly good, even. The acquisition of Tanguy Ndombele for a club-record fee of £55.45 million in July gave Spurs fans something to be excited about, after months of inactivity in the transfer market, but there was even more to come. As weeks went by, a whole host of rumours kept cropping up, linking Tottenham with everyone from Philippe Coutinho to Paulo Dybala, but each new rumour slowly lost traction and died out.
Fast forward to around an hour before the end of the transfer deadline on Thursday, and the only real concrete news about Spurs was that any deal for Paulo Dybala was off the table. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, everything happened all at once. Tottenham began by announcing the signing of the highly sought-after Ryan Sessegnon from Fulham, before also confirming the arrival of Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis on loan.
Within the span of an hour, Spurs' transfer window was flipped on its head, going from mildly interesting to excellent. The spate of signings was welcomed by Spurs fans as a sign of intent from the powers that be, and they will breathe a little life back into Tottenham. Only time will tell if these transfers will be enough to close the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City, but at least it's a step or two in the right direction.
What's eating Christian Eriksen?
Tottenham's success in the transfer window is also bound to give Spurs a little breathing room, as they try to navigate their way around the prospect of losing Christian Eriksen. Despite having established himself as one of Tottenham's key players since his arrival in 2013, it appears as though the Danish midfielder is now on the look-out for a one-way ticket out of North London. With his going price plummeting as his contract nears its end, and with the likes of Manchester United looking interested, the best that Spurs can hope for at this point of time is to arrange a bargain-bin deal with a club that isn't a direct rival.
It's not hard to see why Eriksen wants to leave. For a 27-year-old midfielder who is at the peak of his game, there's not much incentive to stay at a club that pays you considerably less than what players with half the talent earn elsewhere (read: Alexis Sanchez). Blind faith in Tottenham's project, their all-encompassing march towards a better future, is no longer enough to keep a hold of their best players. Players who could easily be playing for the Real Madrids and the Barcelonas of the world. Players who, if rumours are anything to go by, will soon be doing just that. The European transfer window will remain open for a few more weeks, and a deal could be arranged now, or he could stick around and see out the rest of his contract before leaving. Either way, what Tottenham really need to worry about is making sure that no-one follows.
Can Poch kick it up a notch?
Last season, Tottenham had no right to do as well as they did. Pochettino managed to carve out a respectable season for Tottenham with a top-four finish and a Champions League final, despite being criminally unsupported, and at times, even actively hindered by forces beyond his control. He silently suffered through a couple of dormant transfer windows, watched some world-class players leave the club, and struggled to find creative solutions for their absence — all with a degree of grace that few possess. But, in the build-up to the season, the pressure of it all seemed to finally get to him.
In a rather terse interaction with the press after Tottenham's win against Real Madrid, he voiced his unhappiness with his current situation, saying, "I am not in charge and I know nothing about the situation of my players. I am only coaching them and trying to get the best from them. Sell, buy players, sign contract, not sign a contract—I think it is not in my hands, it’s in the club’s hands and (the chairman) Daniel Levy. The club need to change my title and description."
His statement indicated a deep-rooted frustration. Frustration born out of his lack of sway in the proceedings at the club, frustration born out of a lack of resources, frustration born out of all the near misses. It was a call to action, a challenge laid at the feet of his superiors, and instead of chiding him for it, they appear to have finally given him the support he's needed all along, with the decisive signings of Lo Celso and Sessegnon.
In the five years since he came to North London, Pochettino, as a manager, has been everything Tottenham could have dreamt of, and a whole lot more. He is the foundation upon which the project is built, the glue that holds this whole operation together. The only thing that's missing is a trophy, and this season, his squad looks more like genuine title contenders than ever before. More and more, you get the feeling that it's a case of 'if not now, then never' for him at Tottenham. Regardless of what the future holds, it's high time Pochettino went for broke.
Left-back Rose, 30, was released at the end of his Spurs contract, having spent last season training with the club's under-23s.
“Eriksen was gone. We did cardiac resuscitation. And it was cardiac arrest," said Denmark team doctor Morten Boesen, who led the work in giving Eriksen treatment on the field. He added it was still unclear what caused the midfielder's collapse.
Former Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba was one of the many wishing for Eriksen's recovery and safety. Muamba had collapsed during a game in the FA Cup against Spurs in 2012.