Tottenham Hotspur had their best ever finish in the English Premier League last season. And for long periods they were the only team slugging it out toe to toe with eventual champions Leicester City. 2016/17 poses a number of challenges for the North London club.
2016/17 Tottenham Hotspur Season Preview
Positives from Last Season
2015/16 will largely be remembered as the season when the “big” teams fell away. In doing so, the credit that should be aimed Tottenham’s way will largely be overlooked. Tottenham finished in their best league position since they last finished third in 1989-90. This was before the English Premier League had even started.
The team’s playing style was widely lauded during the season as being one of the most entertaining. Mauricio Pochettino’s playing philosophy is becoming more apparent as his players buy into it and as he also starts to mould the team into what he wants. Tottenham ended the season with the best goal difference in the league; the joint best defensive record; and the second most number of goals scored.
The club’s record against the established “top teams” was far better than previous years. They beat Manchester City twice, Manchester United once, and were unbeaten against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
There are many positives to be taken from last season. Particularly as Tottenham seemed to be the solitary team that were consistently chasing down title leaders Leicester City. Individual positives however came in the form of Dele Alli; Toby Alderweireld; Mousa Dembele and Harry Kane.
Alli, Alderweireld, Dier, and Kane
Alli’s rise from League One player with MK Dons to international starter with England has been astounding. He formed an effective attacking partnership with Kane as well as contributing in the central midfield area when asked to do so.
Alderweireld was an astute signing by Pochettino. Arriving from Atletico Madrid and playing alongside his Belgian team mate Jan Vertonghen, he was able to marshal and control Spurs’ defensive play. Dembele on the other hand finally seemed to become the player that the club had always thought they had bought from Fulham. His impact in midfield was significant for the club’s progression.
As for Kane there were fears that he would suffer second season syndrome after his breakout the season before. After a slow start he was the league’s top scorer come the end of the season.
There were many positives however. The full backs became good enough to start for England as did Eric Dier in midfield. Given that this was Dier’s first full season in this position then this was no mean feat. Christian Eriksen continues to be instrumental in Tottenham’s attacking play. Winger Erik Lamela showed flashes of the player that he can become.
Weaknesses from Last Season
It would be somewhat unfair to find weaknesses in a season such that Spurs had. However, weaknesses if any came in the form of not closing some games out when in the lead. Similarly the number of draws that could, and probably should, have been converted to wins would otherwise have impacted on their season points total significantly.
Spurs started slowly last season taking only three points from a possible twelve in the first four games. They also ended with just two points from a possible twelve points from the last four games. This will be an immediate area for improvement in 2016/17. They will need to hit the ground running this time and maintain their form to the very end.
It also seemed that squad depth was a bit of an issue for Spurs. Aside from Harry Kane there was no other recognised striker at the club. Similarly end of season suspensions saw the replacements struggle to impact games in the desired way.
Spurs have added two new players to the squad so far in this transfer window. Victor Wanyama, a player that Pochettino knows at first hand from their time together at Southampton has been brought in to solidify the midfield area further. He will also offer much needed cover to Eric Dier. Vincent Janssen has also been brought in from AZ Alkmaar to bolster the attack for the club. The Dutch international scored 27 goals in 34 games for AZ and The Lillywhites will be hoping he transitions this type of form quickly to his new team.
The club are looking at adding some more talent to the squad. The protracted transfer negotiations of Georges Kevin N’Koudou from Marseille could see him eventually becoming the next signing for the club.
Players to Watch
This season will likely see youngsters continue to be promoted from the academy. However, the senior players to watch out for will be:
Erik Lamela – Lamela started to impact games in an attacking sense for the club last season and fans will be looking for him to continue this trajectory and in particular add more goals to his game. His work ethic is intense and complements the team ethos although he should be wary of unnecessary cautions. This could though be the season that Lamela finally becomes the player that many fans hoped they would see when he first arrived from Italy.
Vincent Janssen – It will be interesting to see if Pochettino will utilise Janssen as an attacking partner for Kane or whether he will persist with the lone striker formation and interchange them. Either way, Janssen will be expecting to mirror his sudden rise in Holland at his new club.
Key matches for Spurs will centre around their traditional and often bitter London rivalries against Chelsea and Arsenal. But it will not be remiss to say that all fixtures will be key this season if they are to replicate last season’s form. They will however be looking to earn more wins against key rivals as opposed to draws.
Spurs cantered to Champions League qualification last season which was out of keeping with previous years’ efforts to merely squeeze into fourth place. They will be looking to cement their place in Europe’s elite competition on a more regular basis and firmly establish themselves as one of England’s top teams. To do this however would mean replicating or bettering last season’s form and this will be their objective.
Champions League qualification also brings with it the bitter sweet challenge of balancing the squad and preparing it to be competitive at home and abroad. This will be Tottenham’s and Pochettino’s biggest test in the forthcoming season.
The one thing in the club’s favour is the fact that teams such as Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City will start the season with new managers, new personnel and new philosophies. Tottenham will instead start on a somewhat stable footing. That is not something that could have been said in previous seasons. Spurs could be primed for another top four finish and there is no reason why they cannot be in the mix for a title challenge again.