Guardian writers’ predicted position: 3rd (NB: this is not necessarily Ed Aarons’ prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 4th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 16-1
Even the most optimistic of Tottenham supporters would have struggled to predict the events of last season this time last year. Mauricio Pochettino’s side went into the campaign as the first club not to make a summer signing since the introduction of the transfer window 16 years ago but with the mouthwatering prospect of playing in front of more than 62,000 fans at their brand spanking new home.
That they had to wait until the meeting with Crystal Palace in April to experience the £850m Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, having already played 15 of their 19 home matches in the Premier League at Wembley, underlines the achievement of maintaining a run of finishing in the top four that now stretches back to 2016. Yet the real drama last season was, of course, reserved for the Champions League and the miraculous run to the final in Madrid that featured the astonishing comeback victory over Ajax in the away leg in Amsterdam.
Pochettino has admitted he has struggled to come to terms with their defeat against Liverpool, having spent the first week following the final in his house in Barcelona not wanting to go outside. “I tried to play golf after a few days — not to play, to swing,” he said last week. “I was focused with my son to try to hit the ball perfectly but it was impossible. My family tried to lift me but they were in the same situation as me. Then I started to move on.”
The healing process was no doubt aided by the purchase of the France midfielder Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon for a club record £55m plus add-ons at the start of July, when it seemed that the chairman, Daniel Levy, had finally relented to his manager’s constant requests for quality additions to his playing staff, having also eschewed the opportunity to do so in the January window. But while the Leeds winger Jack Clarke will stay with the Championship club on loan this season after being purchased from them for £11m, Pochettino’s recent jibe that the club should consider changing his job title back to head coach – a position the Argentinian has not held since being upgraded in 2016 – after admitting he was “not in charge” hinted at his burning frustration.
Top of the list has been finding a buyer for Christian Eriksen to enable the purchase of Giovani Lo Celso of Real Betis or Sporting’s Bruno Fernandes in a revamped midfield with Ndombele. The Dane has made no secret of his desire to seek “a new challenge” but, with Levy having in effect scared off interested clubs with a price-tag in excess of £80m for a player now with less than 11 months left on his contract, both parties have been left in limbo.
Lo Celso looks as if he may now be on his way after the club agreed a £55m fee, with the attempt to sign Paulo Dybala a clear indication of Pochettino’s ambition. The expected arrival of Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon will also go some way to helping to replace the two full-backs who started the Champions League final two months ago. Kieran Trippier was sold to Atlético Madrid but Danny Rose is back in the picture having previously been left at home for their trip to Asia to “explore prospective opportunities with other clubs”.
With only Serge Aurier, Kyle Walker-Peters and Juan Foyth – carried off against Bayern – competing for the right-back berth, their manager may attempt to play with a more solid back four next season rather than buccaneering full-backs à la Liverpool and Manchester City. It would be a risky tactic given the success he has had alternating between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 over the last 18 months, although it is representative of the faith he has in his potentially dynamic midfield. With Ndombele providing the line breaks and incisive passing that have been missing since Mousa Dembélé departed for China in January and Harry Winks always a calming presence on the ball, the addition of the elegant Lo Celso would certainly be worth watching.
Having somehow persuaded the Mexican club Monterrey to pay around £6m for the Dutch misfit Vincent Janssen and should Fernando Llorente rejoin on reduced terms, then Spurs will feel they have ample cover in attack, with a fit-again Erik Lamela keen to make an impact after missing much of last season through injury. Finding a regular spot for the hat-trick hero of Amsterdam will be a concern for Pochettino, who admitted it was a “painful” decision to leave Lucas Moura out of the starting lineup against Liverpool because Harry Kane was back from injury.
With England’s captain, Moura and the effervescent Son Heung-min providing the goals, Tottenham look well equipped at least to match their achievements of the last four seasons. But are they capable of finally winning something? Prioritising the Premier League and Champions League over the domestic Cup competitions is Pochettino’s prerogative but, if he can resolve some of the issues with the squad, then there is every chance he could hit the jackpot soon.
Playing at home for a whole season in such a spectacular stadium should certainly be an advantage – Spurs won 17 of their 19 matches in the last season at White Hart Lane in 2016-17, drawing the other two – as could the experience of coming so close to glory. Liverpool’s players harnessed the disappointment of their Champions League defeat in 2018 to go one better 12 months later and Pochettino will hoping that that experience can have the same galvanising effect on his players.
Shoring up a defence that conceded 39 goals, 13 more than they managed finishing second in 2016-17, will be crucial to their Premier League ambitions. Spurs also lost 13 games last season, although seven of those occurred once the Champions League knockout stages were underway and their attention was perhaps elsewhere. But with their rivals for the title currently streets ahead in terms of consistency and squad size, it is hard to see Tottenham sustaining a title challenge to the very end unless they have a significant rub of the green.
A dazzling end to the transfer window followed by a strong start may change all that, with the biggest trophy of them all certainly not out of the question either after last season’s exploits in the Champions League. But ensuring he can retain the services of Pochettino for the long term should remain Levy’s highest priority.