Three reasons why Tottenham can finish in the top four this season
Harry Reardon takes a look at Tottenham Hotspur's chances of finishing in the top four this season
Their record signing is starting to show his worth
There is a well-worn adage in football – generally wheeled out when a player comes back from a long-term injury – that his return is “like having a new signing”. Some Spurs fans would have been forgiving for thinking, when Erik Lamela was named in the starting line-up for their first game of the season against West Ham, that he was precisely that. After a stop-start introduction to his career in England under Andre Villas-Boas, before he fell victim to a mysterious back injury and to language difficulty jibes from Tim Sherwood (“Que?”) last season, Lamela seems a man reborn under the management of his countryman, Mauricio Pochettino. He is demanding the ball; he is driving at, and starting to regularly beat, opposition defenders. Already with as many Premier League minutes under his belt as he had accrued throughout the entirety of last season, the 22-year-old Buenos Aires man injected some real energy into a Europa League tie against Partizan Belgrade that had otherwise deteriorated into drabness in midweek, and he will surely go from strength to strength. Christian Eriksen shouldered the creative burden at times single-handedly in 2013-14; Lamela’s rise to prominence should take some of the pressure, and for that matter some of the defensive attention, off the Dane, and release all of Tottenham’s latent attacking promise.
They have a sensible presence in the dugout
Finally, trigger-happy Tottenham may have stumbled upon someone sensible for their dugout. No more prickly AVB. So long, Tactics Tim. Farewell to rent-a-quote Harry. Pochettino was not initially a popular replacement for Nigel Adkins at Southampton, and certainly his refusal to speak English in public throughout his time there rubbed a few people up the wrong way. It is hard to deny, though, that he did a pretty good job. Granted, Ronald Koeman seems to have started promisingly at St Mary’s, despite the summer fire sale on the south coast, which makes the true worth of Pochettino’s job there a little more difficult to assess. But the Argentine has started promisingly at White Hart Lane, and his public persona is pleasingly measured – and potentially reflective of an important change of mindset behind the scenes. There is less talk of Champions League or bust; instead, the buzzword is “philosophy”. If Spurs can develop that, and harness some of the team ethic which bound Southampton together so well last season, they can improve again. Lest we forget, this is a team which was pushing hard for a Champions League spot deep into the last campaign – even under Tactics Tim – and which, at times over recent seasons, has been denied only by late-season collapses, questionable foodstuffs, and an improbable triumph in Munich. The promised land is but one small step forward.
Are they now finally settled?
There was something missing on the transfer deadline day just gone. Of course, there was a new signing or two popping up at White Hart Lane, but where was their last-minute supermarket trolley dash? Where was the Joao Moutinho brinkmanship? Where was the late night rushing of Dimitar Berbatov under a blanket to Old Trafford in exchange for a pile of cash (which, for all its virtues, could hardly play up front for Spurs) and Fraizer Campbell (ditto)? Where, for that matter, was Rafael van der Vaart? Somewhat unexpectedly, given the adrenaline junkies that populate the Spurs board, the Lilywhites have had one of their quietest summers for years. The few truly necessary signings were identified and secured. The defensive squad depth has been solidified; defensive midfield looks to have had an upgrade; Tottenham no longer have two goalkeepers with entirely opposite styles. Meanwhile, last summer’s new signings have had a season to adapt and gel together. Up front, the wait for Roberto Soldado to hit his straps may be starting to take on an air of Samuel Beckett, but Harry Kane is beginning to find his feet. It will be difficult, certainly – Manchester United have spent sums undreamed of at White Hart Lane, Liverpool have bought well, Everton are looking impressive again and Arsenal have actually signed a striker – but do not rule out the Lilywhites yet creeping in under the radar.