Andre Villas-Boas was certainly in a bullish mood with the press this afternoon, and there’s a sense of guarded optimism brewing at White Hart Lane with the arrivals of Jan Vertonghen, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and the probable addition of Joao Moutinho.
So, is this actually their year to be a credible threat at the top of the league?
– The perennial defensive weakness may well have been cured. Most of the Summer has seemingly been spent wondering whether Jan Vertonghen would resolve his contractual difficulties with Ajax, and now that he has, Tottenham’s defensive third looks very solid indeed. Younes Kaboul’s development over the last eighteen months has been one of the biggest pluses at the club, and the partnership between the two of them could well be something to match Manchester City’s Kompany/Lescott axis. Rumours also persist that French international keeper Hugo Lloris will be joining the club, and that would represent another upgrade. Add in Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto, and that looks on paper to be an extremely strong back five.
– Andre Villas-Boas is a different calibre of manager to Harry Redknapp. While the latter wasn’t quite as tactically inept as has been implied, there were clearly deficiencies with that part of his skill-set. Not so with Villas-Boas; raised under Jose Mourinho, this is a Head Coach with an acute acumen for the game and a heavy appreciation for the fine print. Disregard his time at Chelsea, because his demise was more the result of the resistant egos he faced than his own shortcomings. A modern manager, for a modern Tottenham.
– Undeniably, Spurs have two of the most dangerous natural wingers in the country. In fact, with the added pace from both full-back positions, Tottenham are nearly unplayable when all four of those weapons fire simultaneously. With Gareth Bale’s emergence, it’s easy to overlook what Aaron Lennon offers – he may not be as three-dimensional as Bale in terms of his all-round contribution, but one-on-one with a full-back, he’s still one of the most threatening players in the league. Keep those two fit, and in-form, and Tottenham will always have a chance.
– The Luka Modric saga is finally, mercifully, almost at an end. He’s leaving. But even without him, Spurs are talented and deep in midfield. Scott Parker we all know about, Rafael Van der Vaart has his obvious qualities, but in Sandro, Villas-Boas has a star in the making.
Much to everybody’s chagrin, the Brazilian will be part of the Brazilian team at the Olympics, but on his return expect him to have a break-out season – he has the capability to shut-down anything in an opposition’s midfield, and is a far better all-round footballer than he’s ever given credit for.
Of course, in a couple of weeks time, we may be adding Joao Moutinho to that mixture – and if he can perform at anything like the level he achieved at Euro 2012, nobody will be mourning Modric’s departure for very long.
– Yes, we can disregard what happened to Villas-Boas at Chelsea, but there still isn’t any precedent to him succeeding outside of his native country. As exceptional as the treble-winning season with Porto was in 2010/11, English football is a quantum leap above that level. There are still question marks.
– Tottenham are not convincing up-top. Emmanuel Adebayor will probably commit himself to the club permanently in the coming days, but for all his excellent link-play, he’s just not enough of a goal threat. Manchester City have Sergio Aguero, United have Wayne Rooney, Chelsea have Fernando Torres, and Liverpool have Luis Suarez – last year’s statistics aside, those players can all be reasonably described as ‘elite goalscorers’. Spurs don’t have that. If Villas-Boas was able to add a Robert Lewandowski, or someone of similar pedigree, then maybe this paragraph can be struck off the list, but as it is his side are short in this department.
– It’s fine to dismiss Luka Modric’s departure as not being particularly important, but the Croatian is an extremely good player. Over the last three seasons, he’s been at the heart of just about everything Tottenham have done well – and his passing range is also integral to Gareth Bale’s influence. Theoretically, someone like Joao Moutinho could replace him, but there are no guarantees over that.
– The biggest caveat with Tottenham is always their backbone, or lack thereof. There were signs last season that Harry Redknapp had cured that issue, but then it all went so horribly wrong. From the resilience shown at Anfield, all of sudden Spurs were being turned over at Loftus Road, being beaten at home by Norwich, and being humiliated at the Emirates by Arsenal and at Wembley by Chelsea. In other words, they’re still soft – you can never be a contender without resiliency.
– The other sides have improved. Manchester City have the most talented squad in the league, so that’s already an obstacle, but Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool will all be better next season than they were last – whether Arsenal follow that trend or not can’t really be determined until the Robin Van Persie situation is resolved, but it’s fair to say the top 6 will be more competitive in 2012/13. Last year, Tottenham manager fourth in spite of their capitulation, this time around, a repeat would see them finish in sixth or seventh.
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