The 2018-19 Premier League season is upon us. Kickoff, believe it or not, is just days away. To get you set for the planet’s most enthralling 38-game soccer circuit, Yahoo Sports’ Premier League XI will delve into the 11 most compelling questions ahead of the coming campaign. Next up, Spurs, where the clock is ticking.
All things considered, being a fan of Tottenham Hotspur has been pretty damn good lately. Long considered something of a sleeping giant in the Prem, North London’s other mega club is actually in the midst of its most successful run since a four-year stretch in the early 1960s, when Spurs won their most recent English title.
Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino has been a revelation since he arrived in 2014. After a fifth-place finish in his first season in charge, a slight improvement on the year before, Pochettino has qualified Tottenham for the Champions League for three campaigns running. Pochettino didn’t even feel the need to add to his squad on Deadline Day, becoming the first Premier League club not to make a signing since the summer became a thing in 2003.
This is an emerging team. And in 25-year-old England captain Harry Kane, who is fresh off winning the Golden Boot as the top scorer at the 2018 World Cup, where he led the Three Lions to the semifinals, Spurs have one of the most prolific strikers in the global game.
“If you can’t add a player that can improve your squad,” Pochettino said Thursday shortly before the window closed, “the most important thing is to be sure you don’t lose your best player.”
Kane’s supporting cast with Spurs includes England teammates Delle Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier, along with World Cup-winning keeper Hugo Lloris, center backs Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez, Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen and Korean striker Heung-min Son.
It’s a stacked squad by any standard. The question is, is it good enough to actually win something before it’s too late?
What is Tottenham’s measure of success?
Off the field, this will be a special season for Pochettino and Co. no matter what. After leaving White Hart Lane for good two years ago and squatting at Wembley Stadium in 2017-18, the club will finally move into its sparkling new 62,000-seat, $1.3 billion Tottenham Hotspur Stadium next month.
Will the product on the pitch match the excitement off of it? While Spurs backers have to love that their club has recently leapfrogged traditional rival Arsenal in stature, Tottenham actually regressed a bit last season, finishing third after being runner up to Chelsea the year before. And for all their young talent, it’s difficult to see them making a genuine run at the Premier League title this year, either.
Rivals such as the aforementioned Blues, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool all have significantly higher budgets. The bookies, who generally get it right (Leicester’s 2016’s miracle notwithstanding), have given Spurs odds of 16-1 to win the league. It makes one wonder: Outside of that elusive title, what would be considered a success in 2018-19 in the eyes of Tottenham backers?
Cups offer Spurs best shot at hardware
The defining moment of Tottenham Hotspur’s 2017-18 season didn’t happen in the Premier League, but in the second leg of Spurs’ Champions League round of 16 clash with Juventus. They managed a 2-2 first-leg draw in Turin and seemed on their way to a quarterfinal appearance for the first time in seven years before the Italians roared back with two late goals to eliminate the hosts from Europe’s most prestigious competition. Afterward, iconic Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said the visitors’ reserve of big-match experience had been the difference against a comparatively green opponent.
It was a cruel lesson to learn. But a year on, Spurs should be better for it. Sometimes teams have to lose to learn how to win, and there’s a sense that this roster is coming of age. Having so many of his players at the World Cup can also only help Pochettino’s side; Spurs sent 12 of its own to Russia, more than any club besides City and Spanish titans Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Being significantly more battle-tested ought to help the Lilywhites in the league. Still, in what is basically a war of attrition over 38 helter-skelter games, the depth available to their wealthier foes will be difficult to overcome. That means that realistically, Spurs’ best chance of hoisting some hardware will probably come in the Champions League and the FA Cup.
There’s no shame in being a tournament team. Liverpool hasn’t captured a domestic league title since 1990, but has made the Champions League final three times since 2005, winning once. Chelsea finished sixth (!) in 2012, but beat Bayern Munich on penalties to become European champs for the first time in club history. Even mighty Real Madrid, winner of the last three Champions League titles, took home just one La Liga crown during that span.
Is time running out on Tottenham?
The downside of having so many young players coming into their own at the same time is that some of them, inevitably, will at some point want to cash in and move on. Tottenham lost Gareth Bale and Luka Modric – the top player at the 2018 World Cup – to Madrid earlier this decade, and the likes of Alli and Kane also figure to leave sooner than later.
Even with the increased revenue its new venue will provide, Spurs couldn’t possibly justify turning down the $200 million transfer fee Kane might be able to command. Real, linked to Kane in the past, is more flush than usual after selling Cristiano Ronaldo to Juve this summer, and won’t sit on that money for long. Spurs would use a portion of the windfall to reinvest in the roster, of course. But Kane’s goals would still be hard to replace, and his departure could have the knock-on effect of convincing others to follow him out the door.
Pochettino’s future also in question
Any exodus might not be limited to players. Real – which seems to view their white-clad brethren as something of a farm team – reportedly is an admirer of Pochettino. The 46-year-old’s stock has been rising steadily ever since he turned Spurs into a Champions League regular.
The irony is that a Premier League title – unlikely but not impossible – or a deep Champions League run would only increase the likelihood that the manager would skip town. Even an FA Cup win would put to rest any talk of Pochettino’s ability to convert attractive football into trophies. Then again, long suffering Spurs supporters would probably take that deal in a second.
Monday: What could derail Man City’s title defense?
Monday: Can Sarri revolutionize or stabilize Chelsea?
Monday: Who’s getting relegated?
Tuesday: Who, if anybody, can break up the top six?
Tuesday: Is Liverpool closing on City?
Tuesday: What to expect at Arsenal post-Wenger?
Wednesday: Is a Mourinho flameout already underway?
Wednesday: Is Spurs’ trophy deadline approaching?
Wednesday: Wolves: Shady, brilliant, or both?
Thursday a.m.: Predictions
Thursday p.m.: Transfer window winners/losers
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