WATFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05: Aaron Lennon of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the pre-season friendly match between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on August 5, 2012 in Watford, United Kingdom. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)
The Premier League season finally kicks off this weekend. Depending on who you ask Tottenham Hotspur's off-season has either been pretty good or pretty underwhelming. Regardless of your position on the eventuality of Spurs landing a striker other than Emmanuel Adebayor, you have to be at least a little excited for actual football to begin again.
The most intriguing part of the early season will be the squad's performance under new manager Andre Villas-Boas. The Portugese coach is, perhaps, out for redemption after a fairly unsuccessful stint as the manager at Chelsea. Tottenham's new man in charge will be keen to start the season quickly and, the opening match with Newcastle aside, the fixture list looks kind for Spurs.
The question though is what does this club need to make it through these first five fixtures (@ Newcastle, West Brom, Norwich, @ Reading, Q.P.R.) with at least 10 points? There's no reason to think that Spurs can't accomplish double digit points from that schedule, but, let's be honest, a few things are going to have to break Tottenham's way.
1) Luka Modric must be fit and playing. Whether the little Croatian is in the team come September 1st is of no importance to me at this point. During this preseason campaign it was clear to me that Tottenham were missing a creative player in their midfield. The pairing of Jermaine Jenas and Jake Livermore was not doing it for anyone and Tom Huddlestone is still not back to full-strength. Playing Newcastle without Modric is daunting, even if Chiekh Tiote doesn't play, For Spurs to succeed they need Modric in the team. It's as simple as that.
2) Sandro needs to play well. Sandro had a long summer. He played a lot of football at the Olympics and I'm sure Andre Villas-Boas and the rest of the coaching staff would love to give the Brazilian a couple of weeks off, but that just can't happen. Sandro's presence as a destroyer in the midfield is made even more necessary by Scott Parker's absence due to surgery. There needs to be a midfielder that is comfortable sitting deep, between the center backs and breaking up play. Livermore is a good young player and a much better passer than Sandro, but Livermore lacks Sandro's defensive prowess.
3) The rest of the defense need to figure out what's going on. How much have we talked about the high line this offseason? We all know that Villas-Boas system of pressing was credited with being a major part of his downfall at Chelsea. We also know that much of the talk this summer has been about how the personnel at Tottenham are much more suited to this system. However, at times this summer you'd be hard pressed to know just how well this team is prepared to play that high line. Younes Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen are new partners in central defense, but they're going to be thrown into the fire quickly against Newcastle. How well the two play against Papis Cisse and Demba Ba may be a good barometer for how this system is going to work for Spurs.
4) The midfield needs to score goals. The likes of Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart, and Gylfi Sigurdsson are used to chipping in with plenty of goals, but with true number 9 (sorry Jermain Defoe) in the squad they will have to carry even more of the goal-scoring load. Both Bale and Sigurdsson have been hot this preseason, so asking them carry over that form isn't too much of an ask. Rafa can generally be counted on to contribute as well. If Tottenham go into the season with Harry Kane and Defoe as the only strikers in the squad that will be a problem, but one that will be slightly mitigated by the goalscoring punch of the midfield.
5) Aaron Lennon needs to break out. Remember the 2008-2009 season when we all thought Aaron Lennon had finally put it all together? Well, Lennon is 25 now and still hasn't ever showed the ability to be anything more than a really fast guy. My main complaint has always been that Lennon doesn't impose himself on the game and that's still true. Gareth Bale demands the ball on the left flank. Lennon waits for it to come to him. If Lennon can somehow combine his amazing speed with a decent end product and some finishing ability then Tottenham would surely start well.
Those are my five keys to early season success. Obviously, this is a reflection of the current squad, so whoever says, "The only key is to sign a good striker" needs to relax. Other than that helpful tidbit, what do you think needs to happen in order to ensure early season success?
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