2018-19 EPL Team-by-team previews: Tottenham Hotspur (August 4)

(Writer’s Note: This is the 18th of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on August 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page.)

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR LILYWHITES

Manager: Mauricio Pochettino (Hire Date: May 27, 2014)
Tenure Length: 3rd/20 in Premier League and 8th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 23-8-7, 77 points, 3rd in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 74
2017-18 Goal Difference: plus-36
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League and/or First Division: 41 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 1978
Last Relegation: 
1977 (First Division to Second Division)
2017-18 Champions League: Round of 16 (Juventus)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Fourth-round loss (West Ham United)
2017-18 FA Cup: Fourth-round loss (Manchester United)

2017/18 IN REVIEW

With renovations to expand White Hart Lane in full swing, Tottenham Hotspur used Wembley as its home pitch for the entire 2017-18 campaign. The Spurs started somewhat slowly at their new digs after opening the season with a 2-0 win at 10-man Newcastle United, losing to Chelsea in a London derby and drawing Burnley.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men righted the ship with a 3-0 romp at Everton as Kane had a brace to trigger a 10-match unbeaten run (8-2-0) that included wins in their first two Champions League matches and a well-earned 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in a toe-to-toe encounter versus two-time holders Real Madrid. That match announced Spurs as a team to be reckoned with on the continent. Tottenham further burnished its credentials with a 4-1 pole-axing of Liverpool straightaway following that draw to solidify a hold on third in the table.

A surprising Carabao Cup exit at the hands of West Ham United followed, as did a 1-0 loss at Old Trafford to Manchester United, but Spurs hit a stunning high in the immediate match after, thrashing Real Madrid 3-1 to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League with two matches to spare. A brace by Dele Alli on either side of halftime before a goal by Christian Eriksen sent Wembley into raptures, with command performances by Alli, Kane and Kieran Trippier earning deserved plaudits from supporters and pundits alike.

The easy motivation of Tuesday and Wednesday nights, though, gave away to patchy play on the weekends. Spurs were overrun 2-0 at Arsenal in the first north London derby, and a 1-1-3 stretch in league play could be overlooked when a win at APOEL confirmed Champions League group honours in early December.

A pair of victories over Stoke City and Brighton and Hove Albion followed, but Spurs took a needed dose of humility in a 4-1 hiding administered by Manchester City at the Etihad. For all of Alli’s otherworldly talent, his mercurial side got the better of him, and a stamp on Kevin De Bruyne with the game in the balance at 1-0 to the host enraged the usually placid Belgium international to the point he unleashed his wrath on all of Tottenham.

It was a lesson well-learned as Pochettino’s team would go 17 unbeaten (11-6-0) across all competitions after that defeat. The young London side drew battle-tested Juventus in the round of 16 for the Champions League, and after a dreadful start in which Spurs fell behind two before the clock had reached 10 minutes, they showed their mettle in Turin by fighting back for a draw. They also had the precious advantage of two away goals in their pocket for the return encounter courtesy Kane in the first half and Eriksen in the second.

There was a surprising FA Cup draw at Rochdale, forcing a replay that was part of three wins on the bounce before the rematch versus the Italian powerhouse. But youth would not be served in Wembley as a tactical switch on the hour by Max Allegri caught Spurs out, and goals by Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala less than three minutes apart powered Juventus to a 2-1 victory in the match and 4-3 on aggregate.

Tottenham, though, revealed plenty of character with four wins on the trot — all on the road — highlighted by its first league win at Stamford Bridge since 1990 with a deserved 3-1 victory on April 1 in which Alli had a brace in a four-minute span of the second half.

Spurs were swept up in Manchester City’s relentless march to the Premier League title, this time losing 3-1 in the home encounter. That ended a seven-match winning streak in league play and started a three-match blip in which they were also ousted from the FA Cup in the semifinals against Manchester United despite it being a “home” match at Wembley.

While Kane missed nearly three weeks with an ankle injury, he made it a point to return as soon as he felt himself fit to play, which also may have been too quick a return. Still, the Spurs forward reached 30 Premier League goals for the first time in his career by recording a brace in the season finale versus Leicester City that also pushed him over the 40-goal plateau in all competitions. Fourteen of Kane’s 41 goals were match-winners, an impressive rate considering the Spurs won 33 gams across all competitions.

Kane finished second to Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in his bid to win a third consecutive Golden Boot in the Premier League, but he would go on to capture the World Cup version for England with six goals in Russia in leading the Three Lions to their first semifinal appearance since 1990.

Overshadowed by Kane’s season-long magnificence and Alli’s burgeoning stardom was Heung-Min Son finishing second on Tottenham with 18 goals in all competitions. He also had nine assists while playing nearly 400 fewer minutes than Alli, who still had an impressive season with 14 goals and 14 assists. Eriksen also had 14 goals, with his sublime form late in the term serving as a springboard to power Denmark to the round of 16 in the World Cup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Tottenham Hotspur Lineup.png

With the impending departure of Moussa Dembele and perhaps Toby Alderweireld, there could be some changes to Pochettino’s preferred 4-2-3-1 set-up, with Davies continuing to serve as left back and Dier stepping into the defensive midfield role after a solid performance for England this summer. While Eriksen does more damage in a central role as a playmaker, he and Alli will likely overlap in the center while Son moves about flank to flank underneath Kane.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

It has been a rather quiet summer for Tottenham, which has largely stood pat in the transfer window. Dembele has been rumoured to be heading for the exit, while defender Alderweireld has been frustrated for months over the lack of progress regarding a new contract. Tottenham’s on-again, off-again pursuit of Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha is apparently off at the moment.

While Spurs are reportedly interested in Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, that situation is complicated by Villa having new ownership and their desire to return to the Premier League after coming up one goal short versus Fulham in last season’s playoff for the final promoted spot from the Championship.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Harry Kane (F)

Kane has become the face of both Tottenham Hotspur and England after spectacular seasons for both, and was properly rewarded this summer with a new six-year contract worth at least £62 million and worth potentially as much as £90 million if incentives are reached. He has grown in stature as a professional on and off the pitch, realising his spot in English football, and at the age of 25, is entering the prime of a career with a running partner in Alli as the linchpins of a London club set to open a new era with its shining new pitch on the hill with its revamped and more expansive White Hart Lane.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Tottenham is fifth on the tote board to win the Premier League at 16/1 odds per Ladbrokes and fifth with 4/5 odds to record a fourth consecutive top-four finish. Spurs are joint-fifth with Arsenal to be atop the table on Christmas Day at 12/1 odds and joint-fourth with Chelsea at 1/9 odds for a top-six finish.

Kane is the favorite to win the Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer with 11/4 odds, with Son a distant second among Spurs players at 80/1. In terms of top goal-scorers on the Lilywhites, Kane is an expected heavy favorite at 1/5 odds, while Eriksen, Alli and Son are all joint-second at 10/1.

Kane is also currently running third to be PFA Player of the Year at 10/1 odds, and Eriksen is joint-eighth at 20/1 and Alli slightly further back at 25/1.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 11 — Newcastle United (10th) A
Aug. 18 — Fulham (N/A) H
Aug. 27 — Manchester United (2nd) A
Sept. 2 — Watford (14th) A
————–
April 20 — Manchester City (1st) A
April 27 — West Ham United (13th) H
May 4 — Bournemouth (12th) A
May 12 — Everton (8th) H

OUTLOOK

There is much to like about Tottenham Hotspur from one through 11 as constructed given it is one of the most balanced sides in the Premier League and Europe. The problem is little has been done to upgrade Nos. 12 and beyond, and in a league were the big guns are always re-loading and re-tooling to compete domestically and abroad, that is a troubling predicament.

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has taken great pains to keep his wage structure as conservative as possible, though he recognised the obvious greatness in his midst with Kane and justly rewarded the striker with a deal that winds up creating a reported pay packet of £200,000 per match in extending him through 2024. Levy’s reported salary at £6 million per year in 2016-17 when it was revealed last spring raised some eyebrows internally among the players, almost all of whom have faced difficult negotiations with the club chairman when it came time for new contracts.

Those negotiations are why Dembele and Alderweireld are looking elsewhere, and defender Danny Rose joined that chorus last season in feeling underpaid. How Levy navigates this minefield as Tottenham chase a fourth consecutive podium finish in the Premier League will be one of the running sub-plots of the season off the pitch around White Hart Lane.

Between the nearly non-existent roster turnover in either direction and the high number of players who logged significant match time at the World Cup in Russia — Kane, Alli, Trippier, Rose, Alderweireld, Dier, Hugo Lloris, and Jan Vertonghen all participated in at least five matches for their respective countries while Eriksen and Davinson Sanchez reached the knockout rounds — Tottenham’s depth is going to be severely tested through at least the first four matches of the season ahead of the first international break.

Erik Lamela, Harry Winks and Lucas Moura will be asked to shoulder much of that playmaking burden early on, and Fernando Llorente is eager to atone for scoring just one league goal after a £15 million move from Swansea City last January.

All of the elite teams have these kind of problems, but while Spurs appear to have the same lack of depth as Manchester United when it comes to World Cup fatigue, champion Manchester City and Liverpool took steps to further re-tool their respective sides ahead of another dual-track season of domestic and Champions League responsibilities.

Pochettino is one of the best managers in the Premier League, and he knows his team inside and out. There are few worries about Spurs burning out on the pitch since he is more than capable as a man-manager, but the sacrifices he will have to make in the early part of the season likely will come with the unintended consequence of sacrificed points.

For a team desperate to end an 11-year drought when it comes to silverware as it moves into a new stadium, that is not an ideal situation. Tottenham, though, could be the darkhorse team in the run-in, and that match at the Etihad versus Manchester City in April could loom large for both sides in the title race.

PREDICTED FINISH

3rd place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                          August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City

2018 World Cup Recap 54 — Belgium 3, Japan 2 (July 2)

Nacer Chadli’s goal in the 94th minute was the final kick of the game and capped an end-to-end rush as Belgium became the first team in 48 years to win a World Cup match after trailing by two goals in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Japan on Monday in Rostov-on-Don.

Thibaut Courtois intercepted a corner kick from the left and instantly rolled it ahead to Kevin De Bruyne, who stormed through the middle of the pitch unchallenged. He pushed it ahead to Thomas Meunier on the right, and he advanced to the penalty area before laying it back into the middle.

Striker Romelu Lukaku ran a perfect dummy to his right as the ball continued to Chadli, who calmly slotted home from six yards past a diving Eiji Kawashima to set off a delirious celebration. Referee Malang Diedhiou blew his whistle immediately after the restart as multiple Japanese players slumped to the pitch after their team’s most agonizing loss in World Cup history.

 

Belgium became the first team to overturn a two-goal deficit at the World Cup since West Germany rallied to beat England 3-2 after extra time in the 1970 quarterfinals. Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini scored in the 69th and 73rd minutes to start the fight back as manager Roberto Martinez’s decision to introduce Fellaini and Chadli on a double switch in the 65th minute paid huge dividends.

The Red Devils are in the quarterfinals for the second straight World Cup and will face Brazil in Kazan on Saturday in a clash of the third and second-best teams in the world according to FIFA rankings.

Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui scored four minutes apart early in the second half for Japan, which looked nothing like the side that scraped through into the round of 16 on the FIFA fair play tiebreaker over Senegal.

Even at 2-0, Samurai Blue refused to sit back and tried to kill off the match with a third goal rather than kill time, going forward even after being pulled back in stunning fashion by Belgium. But that decision by coach Akira Nishino proved fateful, costing Japan its first quarterfinal appearance in club history.

After a scoreless first half which was played at a blistering pace and mainly in Japan’s half despite Samurai Blue getting some quality chance of their own, it was Japan who grabbed the lead three minutes after the restart on the counter.

Shinji Kagawa played a great through ball from his own half that Vertonghen failed to deal with on the right as Haraguchi got behind him.

Haraguchi got on the ball and enough time to re-settle his feet in the penalty area before taking a right-footed shot across Courtois and inside the left post.

Enraged into action after such a sloppy goal conceded, Belgium nearly equalized straightaway as Hazard thundered one off the right post after an excellent layoff from Meunier.

Japan’s second goal in the 52nd minute, however, was richly deserved. Inui played a cross that was cleared by Vincent Kompany only as far as Kagawa at the top of the box. After a feint to his left, Kagawa laid off to Inui, who laced a right-footed shot from 25 yards that sliced away from a diving Courtois and inside the right post.

Lukaku narrowly missed a header wide of the left post in the 62nd minute on a cross by Meunier. But Japan continued to press forward trying to kill off the match, with Courtois getting a boot to a low cross from the end line by Yuya Osako.

In the 68th minute, Maya Yoshida’s step-perfect intervention prevented an almost certain goal by Lukaku as he deflected the Manchester United’s striker shot out for a throw-in. But Belgium’s pressure on the play that followed finally caused Japan to crack as Vertonghen looped a hopeful header from 15 yards deep in the left penalty area close to the end line with Kawashima caught out. The ball looped over him and nicked the crossbar before dropping inside the right post to make it 2-1.

Their tails now up, the Red Devils equalized when Fellaini met Hazard’s whipped-in cross from the left and powerfully headed home from six yards.

Japan, though, refused to back down and nearly fashioned a chance in the 84th minute as Kagawai tried to play Inui through into the left penalty area that required a sliding intervention by Kompany.

Kawashimi put aside the disappointment of conceding two goals with a double save in the 86th minute, first diving to his right to push out a header by Chadli and then pushing Lukaku’s powerful header from eight yards over the bar. He parried a powerful left-footed shot by Vertonghen from 25 yards on the left in the next minute as Belgium hunted a late winner in an end-to-end slugfest.

Courtois rescued his team from an own goal right on 90 minutes as he pushed a ball deflected by Fellaini around the left post. He had to make another diving save to his right three minutes later as Keisuke Honda knuckled a 40-yard free kick that dropped into a threatening area on goal. It was that corner kick conceded which led to Belgium’s stunning match-winner.

The Chelsea keeper almost had the mother of all World Cup howlers right before halftime as he let the ball slip through his hands and legs after stopping a toe poke by Yuya Osako. Courtois, though, was able to turn around and dive on the slow-rolling ball with a yard to spare.

The teams had vastly different lineups from their respective final group matches. Martinez became the second manager to make 10 changes to his lineup after Belgium’s mainly meaningless match against England that saw it go top of the group, while Nishino made six changes as he brought back the XI that drew Senegal 2-2.

Inui also had Japan’s best chance in the first half, with his header from 10 yards comfortably caught by Courtois on the half-hour after Yuto Nagatomo sent a cross in from the left after a nifty backheel by Kagawa as he raced in after Meunier misjudged the ball trying to head clear on the sideline.

Belgium racked up five first-half corners but had little to show for it, with Hazard’s vicious swerving shot in the 25th minute the best of the lot as it was parried by Kawashima.