Perhaps there was a method to Tottenham Hotspur’s madness of inactivity in the summer window.
Owning the maximum nine points, the Lilywhites look to open a season with four league victories for the first time in nine years Sunday when they face upstart Watford in an unexpected clash of top-four sides.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Much continues to be made of the Lilywhites’ decision to stand pat in the summer transfer window, an unprecedented stance by a Premier League team in the 15 years of its existence. Yet even coming off a World Cup summer, club chairman Daniel Levy and manager Mauricio Pochettino have been validated by their decision early, the latest evidence provided in an emphatic 3-0 rout at Manchester United on Monday.
Harry Kane scored his first league goal at the “Theatre of Dreams” five minutes after the restart with a perfectly placed header off a corner from Kieran Trippier, and Lucas Moura added a brace as Spurs (3-0-0) made a statement of intent they intend to challenge reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool for league honours.
Both Kane and Moura have scored in each of Tottenham’s last two matches, with Moura scoring three goals after producing just one in 12 following his move from PSG in January. Kane, meanwhile, has 61 in his last 70 league matches and furthered the proficiency that warranted his new £90 million contract signed in June.
“It’s massive, just what we needed,” Kane told Spurs’ official website. “We need to kill teams off, especially away from home. “As a club, we want to stay top of the league and the only way to do that is by coming to places like this and getting results, so (Monday) is a huge statement.”
Kane has 142 goals with Tottenham, one shy of tying Jermain Defoe for fifth on the club’s all-time list.
The win also quieted the talk around keeper Hugo Lloris, who turned in his first clean sheet of the season less than 72 hours after being arrested for drink driving. The backstop of France’s World Cup-winning squad retained the captain’s armband and came up with a pivotal save on Romelu Lukaku shortly after Kane’s goal that preserved the slim margin before Moura struck on 52 minutes.
“Hugo knows he made a big mistake,” Pochettino told the BBC after the match. “We will support him, knowing it cannot be justified. He has apologised to fans, us, the whole country. He is punishing himself. He feels so bad.”
Spurs have not opened a season with four league wins on the trot since 2009-10 under Harry Redknapp but faded to a fourth-place finish. Pochettino is understandably pleased with the start but is not getting ahead of himself as Spurs will start gearing up for Champions League opponents Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan after the international break.
“The most important thing is to keep calm,” he said. “If at the end of the season with 10 games to go and we are in a good position then we have already shown we can fight.”
Twenty-four kilometres to the west just outside London’s city limits, Watford (3-0-0) are the unexpected team out of the four on nine points alongside Liverpool, Chelsea, and Spurs. Javi Gracia’s team has confounded pundits who thought the selling of Richarlison to Everton would result in a fast track to relegation.
The Hornets found a more than adequate replacement on the left wing in Roberto Pereyra as the Argentina international has bagged three goals. An underrated summer acquisition in bringing keeper Ben Foster back to Vicarage Road also has paid dividends — the Hornets are seeking their second four-match winning streak in Premier League play in club history and first 4-0-0 start at any level since 1988-89 in Division Two.
The Hornets continued their bright play Wednesday, advancing to the third round of the Carabao Cup with a 2-0 victory at Championship side Reading. Isaac Success and 18-year-old Domingos Quina scored on either side of halftime for Watford, who sport enough depth they overturned their entire starting XI from last Sunday’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace for the cup tie.
“The atmosphere in the dressing room is incredible, we’re all prepared for the next challenge,” Success told Watford’s official YouTube channel after scoring his first goal since October 2016. “I’m happy for the team, it was a good win for us. It will make us concentrate more, and we will be ready for Sunday’s game.”
Nathaniel Chalobah and Stefano Okaka made their season debuts after recovering from injury, with Chalobah the more likely of the two to be on the bench for this match. Team selection has become a pleasant headache for Gracia as players are competing for spots throughout the side.
“It is a difficult situation for me,” he said. “I try to choose the best options for the next game and I know my decisions are not fair with some players, but I can only take 18. I would take more players if I could, but it is not possible.”
Watford have yet to beat Tottenham in the Premier League era, claiming three draws in 12 overall matches. All three draws, however, have come at Vicarage Road, including last term’s 1-1 stalemate. The Hornets were aided by Spurs defender Davinson Sanchez being sent off in the 52nd minute.
The teams will also face off in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Sept. 24, but Spurs have asked it be moved to Stadium MK – 80 kilometres from White Hart Lane. Their new stadium is still under construction and Wembley is hosting the Anthony Joshua-Alexander Povetkin heavyweight boxing fight two days prior and is unavailable.
The EFL board which oversees the cup will review the request next Friday.
Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are solid 6/10 favourites to continue their perfect start, and Watford are 9/2 underdogs to pull off a surprise and continue theirs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 3/1.
Oddsmakers are liking a Spurs victory over 2.5 goals as those odds lead the pack at 27/20. A 1-0 or 2-0 Lilywhites win returns on 16/5 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-0 draw are slightly longer at 21/5. For those thinking Watford can get their first Premier League era win over Spurs, it’s 15/2 odds on over 2.5 goals and 11/1 on under.
For first goal-scorers, Kane leads the line at 12/5, followed by Fernando Llorente (4/1), Christian Eriksen (13/2) and Dele Alli (7/1). Moura is joint-fifth with Erik Lamela at 15/2, just ahead of top Watford option Troy Deeney (17/2).
Kane has 7/10 odds to run his goal-scoring streak to three matches, while Moura is further back at 23/10. Llorente is 13/10 to find the back of the net, and at 21/10, Eriksen edges out Alli (11/5). Deeney is the top option for the Hornets at 13/5, with Pereyra checking in with 7/2 odds. Gerard Deloufeu is also sporting 7/2 odds to score, which is intriguing since he has yet to play a single minute.
This is a step up in class for Watford after three wins to start the season turned everyone’s head. Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 set-up has given his wingers room to roam on the flank, with Pereyra taking full advantage of the opportunity offered to him with Richarlison’s departure.
The Hornets have shown they have the potential to be a mid-table team with the victories over Burnley and Palace, now they can show whether they will be a team with potential to make a run at something bigger.
Tottenham have looked the part of a well-oiled machine, though the listless stretches of play that came in their wins over Newcastle and Fulham again were evident against Manchester United before breaking them down early in the second half and taking advantage of a back line bereft of confidence.
This will be an intriguing challenge since Watford’s back four have conceded just twice in the three league wins while playing all 270 minutes together. Spurs are always going to be the more likely of the two teams to leave it late for all three points, but the hedge here is Watford plays over their heads and grab a point.
Predicted final score: Watford 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1.