It is difficult to remember when a Premier League season was looked forward to with as much excitement as this one.
The Jose Mourinho/Pep Guardiola rivalry will resume in Manchester, Jurgen Klopp has had a full summer to implement his ideas with Liverpool and Antonio Conte arrives from Italy with a bright reputation ready to embark on a spell at Chelsea.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger gears up for his latest season at Arsenal and Claudio Ranieri prepares to keep the Premier League title away from them all at Leicester.
Almost forgotten in the summer’s managerial frenzy has been Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino who built the team that were Leicester’s main challengers last season and has worked under the radar to subtly add to his squad.
There has been no Paul Pogba style transfer sagas or Leroy Sane style big-money signings at White Hart Lane, just a simple 2 in 2 out so far; Alex Pritchard and Federico Fazio both departing while Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama have come in.
Spurs were brilliant for large periods of last season and heading into the new term with a stable squad, looking to build on last season’s breakthrough campaign, Pochettino has an immediate advantage over his newly-introduced rivals.
But with Champions League participation and White Hart Lane being rebuilt, can Tottenham stage a repeat and live up to heightened expectation in a definitive season?
Pochettino’s high-pressing and energetic style will once again be apparent, as will his excellent man-management methods that permits him to get the consistent best out of each member of a relatively small squad.
They will also be relentlessly organised with the same defence that afforded just 6 shots and 2 goals from through balls in the whole of last season.
But what else will be in effect? What can Spurs fans look forward to in the 2016/17 season?
A fluent attack
Friday’s friendly with Inter Milan was the first pre-season game with the majority of their squad back after a summer disrupted by Euro 2016 and Copa America.
However the 6-1 demolition job out in Oslo, with goals from Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Janssen and youngster Shayon Harrison, suggested they have lost none of the understanding in attack that saw them score 69 goals last term.
Alli, released from the shackles he was placed under in England’s torrid Euro 2016 campaign, linked up brilliantly with Janssen for goals 3 and 5 against Inter and with Kane also involved, scoring twice and making another on Friday, the forward line is already beginning to fire.
There was a marked improvement in Lamela during the second half of last season and if he can carry that form into the new campaign, on the opposite flank to the excellent Cristian Eriksen, Kane and Janssen won’t be short of service.
Janssen providing more options
Janssen sealed his £18 million move from AZ Alkmaar having scored 22 goals for the Dutch team last season.
Whilst one has to be sceptical about strikers heading to the Premier League following prolific spells in the Netherlands, Janssen has the potential to be more Ruud Van Nistelrooy than Alfonso Alves. Alli has certainly taken a shine to the 22 year old, calling his new team-mate a “great player”.
Alli’s role may undergo a minor change if Pochettino makes good on his pledge to hand the Dutchman more opportunities in a 4-4-2, though Janssen is likely to be challenging Kane for the sole striking slot in the 4-2-3-1 the Argentine coach rarely moved away from last term.
Whichever system Pochettino opts for, Janssen’s arrival finally eases some of the burden on Kane who began to show signs of fatigue in the spring.
Spurs drew too many games last season- 13 in total- dominating in games, they recorded more shots than any other side in the Premier League, but often failed to break down the opposition.
Janssen is an out-and-out number 9 in the mould of Kane, physical and always looking to be involved in the play, and he will offer a more direction should Pochettino find his team struggling against another organised outfit.
His presence in the squad will also allow Clinton N’Jie and Son Heung-min, both able to get a goal but both more suited to wide roles, to move back out to the flanks, despite Spurs still looking short in the centre-forward area.
The season ahead is a pivotal one for Heung-min who, after scoring just 4 league goals in a debut season that failed to justify why Spurs spent £22 million signing him from Bayer Leverkusen last summer, finds himself allegedly up for sale.
The South Korean is currently out in Rio for the Olympics and if he plays his way back into form, it will be a great asset to Pochettino’s plans. His current situation is similar to Lamela’s a year ago and, with the Argentine now integral to Spurs’ team, the winger will be motivated to make a comparable resurgence.
A fearsome, stronger midfield
Wanyama played under Pochettino at Southampton where the Kenyan forged a reputation as a strong and physical midfielder, often over-zealous in the tackle he picked up the most red cards in the league last season with 3.
The manager will have to douse some of the passion that can easily spill over in the 25 year old, he will want him to produce the same type of bone-crunching challenges when alongside the athleticism of Moussa Dembele and the vision of Eric Dier.
Dier thrived in a deep midfield position last season and the quality and range of his passing have moved up a level in the last year, while Dembele is known for the bulldozing runs through midfield that allows him to make use of his finely composed dribbling skills.
Wanyama will patrol the area ahead of the back four, bolstering the midfield ready for European competition and complimenting both Dier and Dembele, permitting them opportunities to cause problems further forward.
A new role for Alli?
Dele Alli’s first full season in Spurs’ first team went beyond all expectation as the midfielder, who only turned 20 in April, ended the season with 10 goals and registered 11 assists and earned a place in the PFA Team of the Year.
The mini acts of petulance that threatened to taint his campaign will hopefully have been eradicated as he focuses on the wonderful technique and control that lets him wriggle out of tight spaces and carve chances in the final third.
Able to play in the centre of midfield or further forward behind the striker, Pochettino may utilise Alli towards the flank like Roy Hodgson did with England in the summer.
Alli may have struggled in the restraint of Hodgson’s diamond system but agile, able to dribble and beat players with his strong physique, he certainly possesses the attributes to play wide.
With Wanyama arriving to possibly partner Dembele and Dier in the centre, Alli may find himself occasionally competing with Eriksen and Lamela for the wide positions.
A more mature and wiser Spurs
The restricted activity at White Hart Lane this summer suggests that Pochettino is happy with the majority of his squad and the way they snapped at the heels of Champions Leicester last season he should be justified in holding such belief.
He has added solidly in required areas, for instance Wanyama’s arrival could mean Dier becoming available to fill in at centre-half, as they prepare to compete in the Champions League as well as domestically.
The true test will come in how they handle the expectation that will inevitably follow them into this campaign as well as the run-in, given the way they dramatically imploded during the pivotal second half at Chelsea in May.
Pochettino will hope those experiences will benefit a young squad and that his new signings will add the required numbers to help them deal with added demands.
Pochettino, with a familiar team and a squad littered with talent, is likely to guide Spurs to the upper reaches of the league once again, though if they are still in with a shout come next March, the memories of last season may equip his team with the traits to stay there this time around.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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