Football FanCast columnist Andrew Fitchett looks ahead to the start of Tottenham Hotspur's 2009/10 season.
Tottenham's campaignpicks up where it left off against Liverpool, and although Spurs will belooking for a reversal in the score-line of that fixture, they will certainlybe looking for a continuation of the form in which they finished last season.
After a horrific start under Juande Ramos, Spurs came close to snatchinga Europa League place after Harry Redknapp's sage hand managed to steady asquad which had accrued only two league points and a massive deficit ofconfidence.
As it turns out, that near miss may prove to be an advantage as Spurs avoid theseemingly never-ending trudge of Europe's secondary competition. This willallow the breathing space and time that Spurs' squad will need if they want topush for a coveted top 4 place. After all, the importance of that unclutteredschedule for captain Ledley King alone is worth the world to Spurs.
Indeed, it was after Spurs' capitulation to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Cuplast term that their form found true consistency. A run of 6 home clean sheetsand some impressive performances followed a sequence that has made thoughts ofChampions League football appear conceivable.
However, Spurs have much to do if they wish to oust one of the big 4 whilstalso fending off the challenge of ambitious counterparts Manchester City, AstonVilla and Everton.
Despite Tottenham's fantastic home defensive record – the best in the league -their parsimony away from home was situated at the other end of the spectrum.Spurs let in 35 goals in 19 games, more than 3 times Manchester United's recordof 11 conceded.
The signing of Sébastien Bassong from Newcastle will provide extra cover inthat area but it is the signing of Peter Crouch that could help most of all.Spurs have lacked a player capable of holding the ball up and relievingpressure since the departure of Dimitar Berbatov, probably the best in thebusiness in that role – just watch the 2-0 defeat of Manchester City in ourCarling Cup-winning campaign for a master class, and Crouch will fill that void- albeit in a gangly kind of way. As Crouch's awkward presence combines withthe pace of Aaron Lennon and guile of Luka Modric, Spurs will offer more of athreat on the counter attack and give our defenders some valuable down-time.
Another who will make Spurs a more solid unit on their travels will be Januarysigning Wilson Palacios. Palacios' tenacious style has strengthened Spurscentre no end but the Honduran needs a strong partner alongside him or asback-up. With the departure of Didier Zokora and the inconsistency of both Jermaine Jenas and Tom Huddlestone, this area needs addressing. With mootedinterest in French prospect Moussa Sissoko and French geriatric Patrick Vieira,Spurs are still in the market and may bring someone in before September.
With the amount of money swilling around in Premier League circles nowadays,accurate predictions for the season ahead are somewhat hard to come to. Of course, we know who will be where orwhereabouts but the precise details of who will finish where and what personnelwill take them there is difficult to judge. For Spurs, this means that althoughthey have a good opportunity to challenge in the upper echelons of the table,if a club – and by a club, I mean Manchester City – decide that they wish tospend bundles of cash or replace their coaching staff in January then the teamsin close proximity could get blown out of the water.
To circumvent this eventuality, Spurs will have to generate an under-usedresource in recent years, that of team spirit and togetherness. Without quitebeing a group of disparate mercenaries, Spurs have become a side reliant on thequality of their players and relative spending power in achieving success. Withthe latter advantage becoming less potent as a harsh economic climate kicks inand profligacy becomes heresy, Tottenham will need to rely more on solidarityand stability for success. Players like Palacios, Keane, Woodgate and King can bethe bedrock and source of this team spirit.
With Harry Redknapp at the helm Spurs have been moulded into a side with morestreet-smarts and old-school nous than they've had for years. That newfoundattitude combined with the quality of players in the squad will give Spursenough to overcome the bottom two thirds of the table who are, in all honesty,not all that great. After that it becomes about how they pit themselves againsttheir more illustrious adversaries. Spurs record against the top four lastseason indicates that they have it in them to compete.
In recent years, Spurs have been perennially seen as the main threat to the topfour's dominance. With Manchester City, Aston Villa and Everton now seen to bethe most likely gate-crashers, perhaps the pressure is off and Spurs canfinally achieve the elusive Champions League place they have long-strived for.