Feeling somewhat underwhelmed
Yesterday, I published an item under the heading Can the Lilywhites win the title?. Some readers thought it was my own doing, despite the “Guest Writer” by-line. I thought I’d make it clear that (surely like most Spurs fans) my realistic objectives and hopes for the coming season are considerably lower.
Every year, I write a piece for World Soccer’s Football magazine. (This year’s edition is Football 2015), reviewing the previous season and looking ahead to the new. I described last season as underwhelming, citing our poor results against top four sides and including Saturday’s opponents (West Ham) in that emotion.
I have to be honest, and say that I am underwhelmed about our prospects in the season to come. I have no hope whatsoever of us finishing top of the Premier League, which I feel will be fought out between three realistic contenders. I hate to say it, but this year, our near-neighbours (who we’d love to head back south of the river where they belong) have bought well, and bought early. Their top signing is Barcelona and Chile striker Alexis Sanchez, who scored 19 La Liga goals last season from 27 starts, and twice in Chile’s successful World Cup campaign.
Sanchez will add to the Gooners' strike force, whilst full back Debuchy will go some way to replacing Sagna, who flew on a free transfer to Manchester City. Debuchy is French (of course), but Mr Wenger looked closer to home (Southampton) for another defender – Calum Chambers – who is only 19, with little Premier League experience, who is clearly deemed to be another Southampton star of the future for Arsenal. Colombia’s Number One keeper David Ospina is obviously going to give loudmouth Szczesny a run for his money. We won’t have too long (September 27th) to wait and see how we compare against “The Others” this year.
My prediction for the season is that Arsenal will finish third behind Chelsea and Man City (in that order). Both these “moneybags” clubs (Arsenal are not so far behind them these days) have again spent quite heavily to improve their squads.
Just the other day City splashed out £32 million on French International Eliaquim Mangala, who presumably will be first choice centre-back beside Vincent Kompany, with Nastasic and Demichelis only too keen, and perhaps able, to take their places in time. Then there is yet another Brazilian – Fernando, a midfielder – also bought from Porto. Argentinean Goalkeeper Wilfredo Caballero got the nod for Sunday’s Community Shield game, and might keep Joe Hart on the bench.
Frank Lampard’s loan deal to City from his New York home was a surprise, but he might be needed to keep the number of “home-grown” players at the right level in the squad Pellegrini will have to name for The Champions League. One or two of his big names are going to be disappointed, and perhaps there will be a bit more outward movement here before the window closes.
Jose Mourinho has brought Didier Drogba back on a free from Galatasaray, and you can be sure he will not be taking up his coaching role fully just yet with plenty of football in his boots. Diego Costa was Chelsea’s highest profile signing, of course, with Filipe Luis also making the trip from Atletico Madrid. Then there is the return of Fabregas to London. He is still only 27, and no doubt make a similar impact upon the Premier League as he did down the road.
Chelsea have also acquired a couple of young players – both defenders. The Croatian Pasalic has already gone out on loan to Spanish club Elche, whilst Kurt Zouma stays in London for the moment.
With the top three places spoken for, in my personal opinion, that leaves (like last year) three or four teams to fight it out for the sacred fourth place. David Moyes found Old Trafford a bridge too far last season, and now United have the Van Gaal factor to anticipate. United have spent big on full back Luke Shaw from Southampton, and midfielder Hererra has arrived from Athletic Bilbao. I suspect United haven’t finished spending just yet. With no European football to distract them, United might well trouble the top three, as did Liverpool last season.
As for Liverpool, Suarez has gone (and won’t be seen at Barcelona before the end of October, pending appeal), and they’ve raided Southampton for Lambert, Lovren and Lallana. Lambert, nor Sturridge, are replacements for the goal-power of Suarez, but with midfielders Markovic and Emre Can added to the mix, perhaps Brendan Rodgers is looking to improve his supply line for a target man such as Lambert.
Interestingly, Liverpool have added two former Spurs Academy players to their squad. Both are 20. One is goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux; the other is defender Kevin Stewart. Both were released by Spurs, but Liverpool’s under-21 team coach Alex Inglethorpe knows these players from his Tottenham Academy days, and will be hoping to see further development.
I think Liverpool will miss Suarez sorely, and that they will struggle to reach the heights of their title challenge of last season. They are still obvious top four candidates though.
On the other side of Stanley Park, improved prize money and TV money, coupled with the arrival of Europa League football, has encouraged and enabled Everton to pay a record fee (£28 million) to make striker Romelu Lukaku a full-time Evertonian. Gareth Barry has also been signed on a full-time basis (free from Man City). Roberto Martinez’s other high profile signing is a Bosnian defender, 21 year old Muhamed Besic, signed from the Hungarian team Ferencvaros, and perhaps spotted by Martinez during the World Cup tournament.
Everton will be in the mix for that fourth place, I am sure.
Five of the six teams I have mentioned so far are members of the seven-team founder members of the Premier League Club. The other two are lowly Aston Villa (amongst the favourites for relegation this season), and our beloved Tottenham Hotspur.
This season on Spurs Odyssey, I plan to re-live the events of the 2004-05 season. That was 10 years and six managers ago. Transient seasons seem to be the story of our life! Jacques Santini didn’t last long, and we must hope that Mauricio Pochettino lasts longer than most of his immediate predecessors.
Will 2014-15 be yet another season of transition, or can the man identified by Daniel Levy as a potential new Argentinean hero hit the ground running? After last year’s splash of the Bale money, not a lot of spending was anticipated this year, and so far we have only bought full back Ben Davies and goalkeeper Michel Vorm from Swansea, whilst centre-back Eric Dier has arrived from Sporting Lisbon.
Maybe there will be more to come. After all, we know so well how Spurs have again upset Southampton with their bid for defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, who apparently would love to play again for his former manager. Whether Spurs will succeed with enticing their man for a fee acceptable to his club remains to be seen. Another man strongly fancied by the new head coach is his countryman Musacchio, currently at Villarreal. Again, Spurs need to up their fee if this move is to come off. There will be plenty of Daniel Levy’s famous brinkmanship before the end of August, no doubt.
I have great expectations this season for club record signing Erik Lamela, who has had a great pre-season, scoring three goals, but who was not so much to the fore on Saturday against Schalke.
The style of football we have seen so far appear to me to be a faster, zipper version of that played under Andre Villas-Boas. Pochettino clearly favours the now standard 4-2-3-1 formation, but we don’t seem to be hanging around getting the ball to the attacking midfield and front men. If Adebayor and Soldado both in good shape and form this term, well supported by the likes of Eriksen, Lamela and Lennon, we could be in for some exciting times.
The defence could be our Achilles Heel though. Team selection starts of course with Lloris in goal, and I would venture a fit Kaboul and Vertonghen as first choice centre-backs, with skipper Michael Dawson, Eric Dier and Vlad Chiriches as back-up. Kyle Walker is going to be struggling for fitness in the early stages, and Kyle Naughton needs to step up a level in his place. Danny Rose demonstrated defensive frailties last season, but played well on Saturday. Ben Davies has yet to bed in, of course.
It seems there will be further departures from Spurs, but I hope that both our Brazilians – Paulinho and Sandro – stay, along with Etienne Capoue, who was out with a knock on Saturday, but is amongst those rumoured to be available for transfer.
Why am I underwhelmed at the prospect of the season that starts this Saturday? A big part of that feeling is the knowledge that we cannot or will not compete on the same budgetary level as Chelsea, Man City, and yes, even Arsenal. It is impossible to feel confident about a team that failed so dismally last season against those who did finish in the top four.
I do think we can be in the mix for fourth place, but perhaps more realistically, I think it is essential this season that we win a cup. Top four has to be the priority, I suppose, but I’d quite like that priority to be winning The Europa League, which offers a path to next year’s Champions League. Tottenham Hotspur also ought to be gracing Wembley again in an FA Cup Final. It has been far too long (24 years next Spring) since we have played in the Final for the cup we used to regard as “ours”.
First things first though, and the immediate priority is to beat West Ham on Saturday!
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