Guardian writers’ predicted position 4th (NB: this is not necessarily Jacob Steinberg’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position 2nd
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker) 10-1
Every time they made that familiar walk to White Hart Lane last season, the hearts of Tottenham Hotspur supporters were awash with nostalgia. They would hover by the building site where their new home will soon stand and anticipation would grow as they tried to picture what the future holds but when they were inside the huge crane filling the gap between the North and East Stands offered a constant reminder that 118 years of history were about to come tumbling down, all in the name of progress. Every home game brought them a step closer to the end.
On the pitch, however, it helped that Mauricio Pochettino’s young team provided the perfect antidote to the sentimentality, even if their outstanding performances stirred memories from the distant past: not since 1964-65 had Tottenham gone a league season unbeaten on their own patch. That explained why, amid the bittersweet farewells and the rainbow that hung over one of English football’s most iconic old grounds after the valedictory win over Manchester United in May, it was possible to reason that this is a club heading down the right path, swept along by one of the brightest managers around and a young squad brimming with hunger and talent.
Part of Tottenham’s journey is short enough. The new White Hart Lane is on the same site as the old one, meaning it will not take long to adjust to their new surroundings, and the thinking behind building a modern 61,000 stadium is obvious. Yet while these are exciting times for a club on the rise, Tottenham are also entering a period that will call for patience. Optimism is high after they finished second for the first time in the Premier League, allowing them to claim supremacy of north London at last, but a sense of perspective will also be required during what could be an awkward season.
The potential dilemma for Tottenham is they will exist in something akin to a state of limbo for a year, stuck between their past and future. As their new ground will not be ready until next summer, they will play their home games at Wembley this season and that, putting it mildly, is a talking point.
Pochettino and his players cannot hide from the statistics. Tottenham won one, drew one and lost three of their five matches at Wembley last season, a record that cost them in the Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup.
Perhaps Tottenham’s Wembley travails can be overstated bearing in mind the teams that beat them there were Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea and Monaco. They will not host opponents of that calibre every week. Yet the disadvantages are obvious. The Wembley surface is 105m x 69m, making it larger than any in the Premier League and 8% bigger than the old White Hart Lane, and it could be difficult for Tottenham to implement Pochettino’s pressing game. They will need to adapt quickly and accept, too, that it will not be easy to replicate last season’s home form, when they were able to feed off the aura of White Hart Lane’s farewell. West Ham United had a similar experience in their final year at Upton Park, before struggling at the London Stadium last season.
Tottenham, however, are significantly better than West Ham and have shown on regular occasions under Pochettino they are capable of reacting positively in difficult times. They will trust they are good enough to let their football do the talking and Pochettino believes the wider spaces could allow his attackers to circumvent visiting teams whose sole intention is to spoil and frustrate. There is no doubt they have the ability. When Tottenham built momentum last season, they blew opponents away, scoring four goals or more in 10 league games.
Arguably more of a pressing concern, then, is that spending £800m on a new stadium means having to behave sensibly in the transfer market. Tottenham have said the project has not placed constraints on their finances but they have yet to make a signing this summer and have watched from the sidelines while their rivals have been strengthening. The left-back Danny Rose made his feelings clear this week by urging the club to strengthen the squad – “not players you have to Google and say: ‘Who’s that?’ I mean well-known players” – and it is fair to wonder how Tottenham can hope to keep up with Chelsea and the Manchester clubs. “We are not a club today that can compete with Manchester United and City for a player,” Pochettino said last week. “We cannot fight. We are in a different way.”
Then again, there is something to be said for their refusal to engage with the Premier League’s insane feeding frenzy. Continuity is rare these days. Daniel Levy has set the weekly wage ceiling at £100,000 and Pochettino, aware the impressive core of his team needs time to breathe, is appreciative of the options already at his disposal.
Despite that measured approach, though, the heavy friendly defeat by City caused Pochettino to admit Tottenham must spend to remain in the title hunt. He observed that competition for places will motivate his top players and said that Levy shares his view. “How have Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and different clubs tried to improve their season?” he said. “Bringing players and trying to put more pressure on their star players – and for us we need to do that too.”
At least Tottenham have kept their best players together. There was a time when they were a target for the bigger clubs. In recent years, however, they have seen off interest in Hugo Lloris, France’s No1. This summer there has been no question of them selling Harry Kane, the best striker in England, and asking about Dele Alli’s availability would be equally pointless. Tottenham have sold Kyle Walker, who was in the PFA’s team of the year last season, but City paid £50m for the right-back. Pochettino believes in Kieran Trippier, who was preferred to Walker in big games at the end of last season but could now miss the start of the season with injury.
There is not a lot for Pochettino to fix, though. Whether they used three or four at the back, Tottenham had the stingiest defence in the league, conceding 26 goals. Lloris’s speed off his line enables them to play a high line, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are solid centre-backs, Eric Dier can seamlessly slot into a back three and Victor Wanyama, a powerful screening presence in defensive midfield, proved a bargain at £11m. Ben Davies, meanwhile, is a fine alternative on the left to Rose, who will miss the start of the season after knee surgery, although the latter provides more offensive thrust.
Mousa Dembélé is a lovely controlling midfielder, whose delicate touches make Tottenham tick. Son Heung-min is nimble and effective and Christian Eriksen has shouldered the creative burden in the absence of Erik Lamela, although the Danish set-piece expert could do with producing greater consistency and more decisive moments. Up front Alli and Kane are the stars – Pochettino’s decision to move the former further forward around Christmas was inspired – and there are bound to be more chances for youngsters like Cameron Carter-Vickers, Marcus Edwards, Josh Onomah, Kyle Walker-Peters and Harry Winks, whose manager calls him the “Little Iniesta”.
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