4) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Pts: 36 (10-4-6)
Preseason Prediction: 5th
Accuracy: Pretty close
It’s really status quo for Spurs this season, and that seems to be a little concerning, even to Harry Redknapp. There are some scary teams in the Premiership, and Tottenham’s depth doesn’t come anywhere close to the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas, and Manchester Citys of the world. That might be a lot of trouble as Tottenham faces a Champions League campaign they at least want to take seriously.
But, it’s not exactly time to panic in Spurs Nation. Most of the team is back from last season, and you have to think – Ledley King aside – that the team might even be a little healthier this time around. Gareth Bale didn’t play for a relatively long period of time, David Bentley only made 15 appearances, Roman Pavlyuchenko 16, and even Nico Kranjcar was only able to start 19 times in the league.
So I think Tottenham is slightly better than last season, but unfortunately for them, the league is also better, and they’ll come up just short in the race for a return to the Champions League.
The league isn’t really better than it was last season, is it, and Tottenham has ridden Bale to fourth place that they really look like they can keep the rest of the way. Bale showed flashes last season, but he has been – hands down – the best player in the Premier League this season. Combine that with the steal that Rafael Van der Vaart has turned out to be, and it actually wouldn’t be surprising to see Spurs a little higher up the standings at this point. Other than Van der Vaart and Bale, they haven’t found consistent scoring (Pavlyuchenko has 5, no one else has more than 2, Jermain Defoe hasn’t even scored in the league yet), and a William Gallas-led defense is always capable of implosion at any time. But they have fewer questions right now then the team below them (Chelsea), and that’s really saying something.
Preseason best new signing:
Sandro – Well, he hasn’t really helped them, either, having made just 7 league appearances, 5 of them coming off the bench. Sandro may be a regular in the Premier League, maybe even a star, but it won’t be this season. It’s interesting, though, to compare Sandro’s plight to Chelsea’s Ramires. While Spurs could replace Sandro (even with Tom Huddlestone out as well), Chelsea really couldn’t do the same when Ramires began to struggle. And that, my friends, is the difference between the two teams right now. How did that happen?
Preseason key player:
Gareth Bale – Good call. Tottenham have been the most entertaining team in the Premier League this season and a lot of it has to do with Bale, who is must-see-TV every time he touches the ball. Teams are now devising entire strategies to slow him down, and that gives his teammates more room to operate. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Luka Modric is playing as well as he is this season with Bale (and Aaron Lennon on the other side) a player that has to be dealt with. He does only have 1 assist this season, so there is still room for improvement, but nobody’s perfect, I guess.
Key player now:
Benoit Assou-Ekotto – Assou-Ekotto has been every bit the equal of Ashley Cole at left back this season, as it appears the Cameroon international has finally grown up. He has made few mistakes in the back, and with Bale basically acting as a lead blocker for him, he can get up and down the left side of the field. He was always quick enough to stay with speedy people on the wing, but his tackling his better and his head generally appears to be screwed on straight this season, which Tottenham hopes continues to be the case in the upcoming months.
Inside the numbers:
6 – Number of fouls Bale has committed this season. OK, so he doesn’t like contact all that much. He leads the team in fouls suffered, but it’s only at 37, a number that is sure to go skyward in the coming months and seasons if he can stay healthy.
Outlook: If you look at Spurs right now position by position, they are better than Chelsea at most, aren’t they? They’re certainly deeper, and it may be a blessing in disguise if their Champions League run ends against AC Milan so they can focus on fourth place in the league.