One of the big questions being asked about next season is will Tottenham be good enough to break into the Premiership top four and qualify for the Champions League.
Having finished fifth for the last two seasons, Spurs will be looking to their new signings, Darren Bent, Younes Kaboul and Gareth Bale, to make the difference. The potential is definitely there, but if Spurs are going to do it, they will have to improve in certain areas and no doubt they will require a bit of luck too.
They will certainly need to improve their defence which last season conceded 54 goals, and left back Bale and centre half Kaboul have been brought in with that intention. Bale may only be 17 but he has enormous potential and could make an immediate impact both in defence and attack. Kaboul is a bit unknown but Spurs boss Martin Jol said that “if you ask people in France who is the hottest prospect in defence they will say Younes Kaboul”.
It is also important that Spurs hold on to Pascal Chimbonda, there have been rumours of a possible move to Chelsea, and after the way Chimbonda left Wigan last summer he might be expected to do the same to Tottenham if Chelsea did want him. Another key to a better defence is the fitness of Ledley King, if he can avoid the injury problems of the last couple of seasons it will be a major boost.
Midfield is Tottenham’s weakest department. Despite countless signings over the last couple of years, they still lack the world class midfielder who could make the difference between UEFA Cup and Champions League. Aaron Lennon continues to be a great prospect, but he still needs to take his game up another level before he can be classed as a great player. He has the speed and talent, but needs to be more effective, hopefully Jol will keep him on the right wing this season where he is more influential.
Zokora and Jenas are both decent players but cannot be rated in the same class as the top teams’ central midfielders. More drive is needed from these players, and more goals. The left side of midfield also continues to be a weakness. Steed Malbranque would probably do better playing behind the front two, while Teemu Tainio has suffered a lot of injury problems. To support the midfield, youngsters Tom Huddlestone and Adel Taarabt should both get chances to show their talent this season.
The forward line is where Tottenham are strongest, but they will have to be at their best if they want to step up from fifth to fourth place. Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent are both potential 20-goals-a-season players, if they could both reach this figure, we might well see Spurs taking on the likes of AC Milan and Barcelona in 2008/9. Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe, if he stays, offer first class back-up.
For Spurs to succeed of course they will need one of the big four to slip up. For Tottenham fans the team to beat will undoubtedly be North London rivals Arsenal. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the gunners since David Dein walked out. How will the react to Thierry Henry’s departure? What will Arsene Wenger do next summer? Which other players might be thinking about leaving? On paper Arsenal still have a better squad than Tottenham, but this doesn’t always mean your team will do better.
This is a vital season for Spurs, if they don’t qualify for the Champions League it will be more difficult for them to hold on to their best players such as Berbatov, and this in turn would make it harder to persuade top players from moving to White Hart Lane. Personally I think the odds of finishing top four are still against them, but the fact that they are being considered as candidates shows that Tottenham have come a long way under Martin Jol.
Nig writes at the Barcelona blog.