Tottenham Hotspur had a good run in the Champions League in 2010/11 before ultimately being dumped out by Real Madrid in the quarterfinals. They didn't managed to match those highs in the Premier League, however, finishing fifth behind Manchester City. Is it time for another top-four push? Bryan Ashlock, writer at SB Nation's Tottenham Hotspur blog Cartilage Free Captain, takes a look.
Following up on a season which saw them finish fourth, Tottenham Hotspur had high expectations for 2010-11. However, a lack of goalscoring punch and some shaky defending conspired to help the team slip to a disappointing fifth place finish, six points behind Manchester City for a Champions League place. The one redeeming aspect of the season was a run to the quarterfinals of the Champions League in the club's first ever season in the competition. The campaign saw Spurs defeat the likes of Inter Milan and AC Milan before going out to Real Madrid.
Out: Jamie O'Hara - Wolverhampton Wanderers (£5 million), Jonathan Woodgate - Stoke City (Free), Steven Caulker - Swansea City (Loan), Kyle Naughton - Norwich City (Loan), Bongani Khumalo - Reading (Loan)
Tottenham's lone first team addition this offseason has been 40 year old American goalkeeper Brad Friedel. Heurelho Gomes made a number of high profile errors during the previous season and Friedel should provide competition for the number one shirt. The most exciting addition is Souleymane Coulibaly. The 16 year-old Ivorian was the star of the U17 FIFA World Cup, during which he scored nine goals in four matches. It's doubtful the striker dubbed "Mini-Drogba" will make a first team impact this season, but he is an exciting prospect nonetheless.
Tottenham Hotspur have visions of the themselves as a perennial Champions League contender. Yet, in a summer in which all the other contenders for the top four have strengthened their squads, Spurs have largely been stagnant. The Club still lacks a top-drawer striker despite having been linked with just about every striker in top-flight football over the last two seasons. Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Arsenal have all strengthened their squads with new signings. Only Chelsea has yet to sign anyone, though they continue to pursue Luka Modric.
The first two months of the season will be very telling for Spurs. In their first seven games the Club plays Manchester United at Old Trafford, as well as Manchester City, Liverpool, and Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Fortunately the rest of the fixture list looks fairly kind. The final month and a half of the season looks especially kind with a trip to Aston Villa looking like the only potentially difficult fixture.
With the squad largely unchanged from last season Tottenham Hotspur should have little difficulty competing for a European place, even if their strikers continue to misfire. Should either Jermaine Defoe or Roman Pavlyuchenko find a rich vein of form to start the season the club could find itself hot on the heels of those in the top four, but that seems to be a big ask.
As always, health will be a big issue for the club. William Gallas, Sandro, and, of course, Ledley King are already injured and could find themselves missing the early part of the campaign. In the past injuries to the likes of Gareth Bale and Modric have caused bumps in the road for the club and keeping these players healthy will be a high priority.
One of the players most integral to this squad's success will be Gareth Bale. The Welsh winger was, at times, one of the best left sided midfielders on the planet. At other times, like against Everton, he was invisible. Bale needs to stay healthy and learn how to impose himself on the game. Bale scored 11 goals in all competitions for the Club last season and he will need to at least equal that return in order to propel Spurs back into contention for the top four.
While Bale may be the best player in the team, it is going to be Modric who's performances will be the best barometer of success for Tottenham Hotspur. The diminutive Croatian has had quite a summer. He still may leave the Club for Chelsea before the transfer window closes, but for now he is a Spurs player. Modric's skill as a playmaker and work rate make him an excellent partner to just about all of Tottenham's other central midfielders. Without his creativity and passing in the center of the park Spurs would struggle to unlock defenses. If Modric is disinterested or unhappy at the Club his performances will reflect it and then Spurs will be in dire straights. If Modric is playing hard, setting up his teammates, and maybe even scoring goals, then Tottenham have a chance to compete for the Champions League.
Prediction: 6th Place
With all of Tottenham's rivals for the Champions League improving this offseason it seems unlikely that the current squad can break into the top four again, especially given the early season fixtures.Tottenham should secure a place in the Europa League again, but the Champions League seems just out of reach. However, should Tottenham earn 7 points or more from Liverpool, the two Manchester sides, and Liverpool in the first months of the season Spurs could find themselves right in the hunt.