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

Breaking down the FIFA All-World Cup tournament team (July 17)

So FIFA released its World Cup team of the tournament. They broke it out in a 4-2-3-1 formation as follows:

GK — Hugo Lloris, France
LB — Ashley Young, England
CB — Dejan Lovren, Croatia
CB — Raphael Varane, France
RB — Kieran Trippier, England
MF — Luka Modric, Croatia
MF — Paulinho, Brazil
LW — Neymar, Brazil
AM — Antoine Griezmann, France
RW — Eden Hazard, Belgium
ST — Kylian Mbappe, France

Straightaway, Ashley Young is the biggest head-scratcher of this bunch, especially when comparing his play to compatriot Kieran Trippier, who may have had the best tournament of any outfield player on England’s squad.

Harry Kane also had a strong tournament and won the Golden Boot, yes, but Trippier was seemingly everywhere for the Three Lions and through no fault of his own nor lack of industry, Kane was too often starved of service as the opposition got tougher.

Young did not played poorly, but was he better than Croatia’s Ivan Strinic? No. Better than France’s Lucas Hernandez? Again, no.

That N’Golo Kante is not on this list and Paulinho is borders on ridiculous. In fact, you can make a better argument for Casemiro over Paulinho when reviewing the tape of Brazil’s loss to Belgium given how awful Casemiro’s replacement Fernandinho played in that defeat. The fact Kante reportedly played the final while suffering through a stomach bug only adds to his legend on top of the long list of accolades he has accumulated in a three-year span.

Neymar is a questionable inclusion, especially at the expense of for four-goal scorers Romelu Lukaku of Belgium or Denis Cheryshev of Russia. The latter’s goal rate of one per 76 minutes was the best of the tournament.

I have a minor quibble with Lovren because I felt there were times he got away with a foul that warranted a booking. I also think, however, there are only three central defenders you can make an argument for in replacing him — England’s John Stones, Sweden’s Andreas Granqvist and Colombia’s Yerry Mina.

 

2018 World Cup Recap Match 62 — Croatia 2, England 1 a.e.t. (July 11)

Mario Mandzukic’s goal in the 109th minute propelled Croatia to its first World Cup final in its young history, breaking the hearts of England with a 2-1 victory Wednesday in Moscow.

The Vatreni, whose only previous semifinal appearance came in their maiden World Cup appearance in 1998, showed plenty of courage in advancing to Sunday’s final against France while playing their third straight match that went into extra time.

Unlike the victories over Denmark and Russia, Croatia this time avoided going to penalties as its veteran savvy found the half-second of advantage against the young Three Lions that made the difference.

The game-winning play started when Kyle Walker popped his clearance only as far as the left elbow of the penalty area. Ivan Perisic, who scored the equalizer in the 68th minute, won a 50/50 ball against Kieran Trippier and headed it backward towards goal.

Mandzukic ghosted behind John Stones and lashed a left-footed shot from the elbow of the six-yard box across Jordan Pickford and inside the right post. England could not create a threatening chance in the final 11 minutes, its chances literally hamstrung when Trippier came up lame in the 115th minute and played the final five minutes and stoppage time with 10 men having used all four of their substitutions.

The final attempt came with a free kick 35 yards from Croatia’s goal, but Marcus Rashford’s chip did not go deep enough to draw Croatia keeper Danjiel Subasic off his line as Perisic was able to bundle it away from danger before referee Cuneyt Cakir blew his whistle.

The Vatreni will stay in Moscow to face Les Bleus, their first World Cup encounter since France eliminated them in the 1998 semifinals in Saint-Denis with a 2-1 victory. Croatia will be seeking its first victory over France as the countries are meeting for the sixth time.

Though denied their first World Cup final since winning it on home soil in 1966, the Three Lions will return to England with their heads held high after Saturday’s third-place match versus Belgium in St. Petersburg.

Gareth Southgate’s team — the second-youngest behind Nigeria in Russia — came of age behind talisman Harry Kane, who is likely to bring home the Golden Boot as he leads with six goals, and keeper Jordan Pickford, who cemented himself as England’s No. 1 going forward with commanding performances between the sticks in the three knockout matches.

England has scored a record nine goals off set pieces at this World Cup, accounting for 75 percent of its goals. Trippier added to that ledger with his well-taken goal five minutes after the opening kickoff.

With only five players on the roster born before England’s previous semifinal appearance in 1990, Southgate’s young players continued to prefer writing their own narrative as opposed to looking back to the half-century of almosts and never-weres. The Three Lions got off to a dream start in the fifth minute through Trippier.

Luka Modric chopped down Dele Alli just above the penalty area, 25 yards out and virtually straight down the middle. Trippier struck a quality curling effort with his right foot, over Dejan Lovren in Croatia’s wall and in the upper right corner as Subasic had no chance in stopping it.

The Spurs wide back became the third England player to score in a World Cup semifinal, joining Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker. The Three Lions continued on the front foot, with Raheem Sterling again causing an opposing backline issues with his pace while failing to create any scoring chances for himself.

England earned another pair of corner kicks inside the quarter-hour. Maguire was able to get his meaty forehead to both, but they failed to result in a goal as each went wide of the right post. His second effort was the better of the two, bouncing wide from 15 yards on a diagonal effort.

Croatia’s first shot came in the 19th minute when Perisic whistled a low effort wide of the left post from 20 yards. The Vatreni gifted Sterling the ball on the right side with a ghastly turnover, but he picked out Kane in an offsides position.

England should have doubled its lead on the half-hour through Kane. Jesse Lingard did well to control a pass and played Kane through on the left. The striker tried a shot from six yards that Subasic did well to get down quickly and stop, but the ball popped back to Kane near the left post.

He tried to slam the ball inside the post, but it thumped the woodwork and Subasic before spinning over the end line for a Croatia goal kick. The Vatreni finally tested Pickford in the 32nd minute as Modric picked out Ante Rebic on the right side after dribbling with the ball in and out of the penalty area, but Rebic’s shot arrowed right at the England No. 1.

Jesse Lingard became the second Three Lions player to spurn a chance to make it 2-0 in the 36th minute, snatching at his shot from 20 yards after a neat lateral pass from Alli after he drew three defenders to him.

Cakir was content to let the teams play, though the chippiness was steadily increasing throughout the first half. Rebic should have been booked for a cynical challenge from behind on Ashley Young, while Lovren had a pair of tactical midfield fouls that would have warranted a yellow card on most occasions.

Croatia had one last chance before halftime on a free kick and while there was a penalty shout for Maguire holding Lovren, VAR deemed it insufficient as the teams went to halftime.

After the restart, Rebic continued to try and influence the match but overcooked a cross for Perisic in the 53rd minute. England fashioned a corner three minutes later, but Lovren did well to get his foot to Trippier’s in-swinger before Kane could get his head to it.

On the hour, Croatia finally started switching gears as the triangle of Modric, Perisic and Ivan Rakitic grew in stature. Rakitic pounced on a poor clearance from Stones and had time to load up a right-footed shot from the top of the box in the 65th minute, but Walker threw himself in front of it and absorbed it in the midsection.

Three minutes later, though, the Vatreni would have their equalizer. Rakitic sent a reverse-pitch pass to Sime Vrsaljko to the right, and Croatia’s right back quickly fired in a cross while England’s back line was static. Perisic ghosted in front of Walker, getting his right foot to the ball with a high flick above Walker’s head and sending it past Pickford on 68 minutes.

Croatia had its tails up at this point and nearly grabbed the lead four minutes later when Perisic took advantage of another poor clearance by Stones and was able to do a stepover to create some space on the left side of the penalty area before ripping a shot across Pickford that dented the right post.

It came right to Rebic, who was unable to pick out a corner and hit the rebound almost directly at Pickford as England averted a crisis. Southgate made his first switch right before the final quarter-hour as Sterling made way for Rashford.

England finally looked threatening as Lingard fizzed a cross and Henderson went over the bar 12 minutes from time. But the nerves came back as Walker sent a slow back pass towards Pickford that Perisic nearly latched onto before Trippier touched it further back to his keeper as he belted it upfield.

Manduzkic had a shot stopped by Pickford, but then the England keeper had a weak punch that fell to Perisic in the penalty area, but his chip over Pickford also sailed over the bar. England was simply hanging on and looking to get to extra time as Croatia hemmed the Three Lions in their final third, but Lovren gave them a respite when he tried a heroic 30-yard shot that sailed into the crowd.

England had the last chance of regulation, with Kane nodding an unmarked header wide of the left post on a free kick from Trippier. Southgate burned his second sub before the start of the first extra period, introducing Danny Rose for Young.

Alli did himself a disservice in the 93rd minute by failing to shoot as opposed to his lay off that was cleared by Croatia’s defense. Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic was forced into his first change as Ivan Strinic came up hobbling, and Josep Pivaric entered at left back.

Unlike its match against Colombia, England was demonstrably better in the opening 15-minute extra period and came agonizingly close to grabbing the lead in the 98th minute.

Trippier sent a perfect corner from the right, and Stones got all of a header he angled for the left post. But Vrsaljko was perfectly stationed, unlike most teams who opted not to have players stationed at the posts, and he jumped to head a sure goal off the line.

Croatia made one last push in the waning moments of the first extra 15 minutes, with Dier making a vital block of a drive by Andrej Kramaric, and then Pickford came up with a magnificent reflex save on a shot by Mandzukic after Perisic whipped in a cross from the left.

The teams switched sides for the second extra period, and one could sense England’s fatigue was more mental than physical as Rakitic played a wily short corner on the left for Marcelo Brozovic, but he ripped his 10-yard shot into the side netting as opposed to going across his body.

After Mandzukic’s goal, Southgate’s final roll of the dice came with Jamie Vardy entering for Walker. Subasic comfortably claimed a cross from Rashford, and Croatia won a corner as it began its bid to see off the match.

Pivaric hit a 25-yard curler right at Pickford, but Trippier came up limping and hobbled over the end line, instantly knowing his match had been run and waited for help from England’s physio staff. Now down to 10 men, England continued to pour forward, and Alli won a free kick on the left.

What should have been a corner kick was ruled a goal kick after Rashford’s play into the area was nodded out by Lovren and not Maguire. The indefeatigable Modric was lifted in the 118th minute for Milan Baldelj as the Vatreni were set to bunker and chase.

Kramaric could have done more in the 120th minute, but he opted to shoot instead of send Perisic through and went into the side netting. Pivaric inexplicably gave England one last lifeline in stoppage time, hitting a cross right at Pickford rather than killing time in the corner.

Badelj was whistled for a handball 35 yards out, but Rashford’s chip went begging, and a weary yet unbroken Croatia side was through to its first World Cup final.