Premier League Preview: Tottenham still not spending, not spent either
Tottenham Hotspur’s last campaign can be viewed from two perspectives. In one sense, they regressed, taking fewer points, scoring fewer goals, conceding more. In another, the Lilywhites over-performed, punching above their financial weight to expel Chelsea and Arsenal from the UEFA Champions League places.
Spurs return to a rebuilt White Hart Lane, looking to continue the remarkable home form they enjoyed at their old ground, 53 points from 57 in 2016/17. Although they ultimately stuttered, Spurs fought Chelsea tooth and nail for the title. Mauricio Pochettino's aim is to do better this season. With almost the same squad and five of their first seven games on the road, it may prove an uphill task.
Never has Pochettino’s job has come under threat in London. The 48-year-old is among the rare untouchable in England’s top-tier. Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola are his only neighbours although Jose Mourinho keeps wandering the streets. This campaign will be Poch's fifth since moving from Southampton in May 2014.
Pochettino has brought extraordinary turnaround and stability. Spurs have become UEFA Champions League regulars, finishing ahead of rivals Arsenal in back-to-back seasons. Previously, the Gunners had outpaced them every year since 1995.
The Argentine is under no pressure other than to stay in the face of possible interest from Real Madrid. He showed no interest in the most-coveted dugout in club football, extending his Spurs contract another five years. Yet with every passing year, talk of a trophy grows louder.
Fans are irritated that Spurs have yet to add a new face. The squad is fine throughout, but that hasn’t stopped the scepticism over a lack of shiny new toys in the first team. It's an entirely strange situation for the faithful. Five senior players joined the club last summer, including Serge Aurier and Davison Sanchez.
Rather than strengthening, Tottenham is struggling to keep its star players. Toby Alderweireld is reportedly on the move. The Belgian has one year left on his deal and is clamouring for an increased pay package. As usual, CEO Daniel Levy is resolute. Manchester United or Paris Saint-Germain could offer an escape route. Pochettino isn't a happy man.
No, I am not relaxed. I am a coach and when you are a coach you cannot ever be relaxed. You need to be confident and trust in the people you have and the way we work. Football is always about adding more quality every season, like other clubs are doing. If we cannot do that we need to try to be creative and, of course, help from the younger players would be amazing.
Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish is the club's main target. By a huge margin, the 22-year-old was Steve Bruce's best player last season. Even though Villa seem poised to do business, Spurs would have to match the club’s valuation. The returning Vincent Janssen would also seem like a fresh addition.
Despite underwhelming summer business, Spurs will head into the campaign in high spirits. Barring the troubled Alderweireld, the North London club has managed to keep its spine happy. England skipper Harry Kane penned a long-term contract before the World Cup. So did Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Heung-min Son.
Unlike rival managers, Pochettino won’t make wholesome changes to his line-up. At the back, Hugo Lloris will have regular suspects Sanchez, Kieran Trippier, Ben Davies and Jan Vertonghen in front. Eric Dier, Alli and Eriksen will orchestrate from the middle. Son and Kane will lead the charge for goals.
This campaign will be critical for young defenders Kyle Walker-Peters and Juan Foyth. In a Spurs team spoiled with options in every department, both impressed when called upon in 2017/18. Walker-Peters slotted calmly on both flanks. Foyth, who joined from Estudiantes last year, showed courage in the centre.
In pre-season, though, it was Oliver Skipp and Luke Amos who stood out. A hard-working and technically gifted midfielder, Skipp was the star of Spurs Under-18s last season, even though he faded in the campaign's last few months. Amos spent the last two years on loan in the Football League and appeared to find his game at Stevenage last season. Look for them to have an impact.
Pochettino is in limbo. Without reinforcements, he faces the annual task of coaxing still more from his current charges. The delayed arrival of World Cup players adds extra weight to the 48-year-old's shoulders.
Regardless, Spurs still possesses the quality and balance to finish in the top four. The title will likely be a two-horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool. With new managers in charge at Arsenal and Chelsea, the Lillywhites consistency may prove advantageous.