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Welcome to Yahoo Soccer’s Premier League Starting XI. This lineup of stories will get you ready for the upcoming season as we count down to kickoff on Friday.
Even Tottenham Hotspur fans who were around the last time Spurs won the English top flight way back in 1961 might argue that their team enters the new Premier League season coming off the most promising campaign in club history.
No, Spurs didn’t actually hoist any silverware in 2018-19. The North Londoners still have not lifted a trophy since winning the League Cup 11 years ago. They’ve now gone nearly three decades since their last FA Cup triumph.
Yet last season will still correctly be looked back on as a watershed moment for Tottenham, the sleeping giant of a club that finally seemed to rouse and take that next step in establishing itself as one of the Prem’s big boys with a surprising, if ultimately unsuccessful, run to the Champions League final and the debut of its sparking new 62,000-seat stadium.
The question is, what can Mauricio Pochettino’s side do for an encore?
Spurs will will return to the Champions League for the fourth consecutive season, having qualified for Europe’s top club competition in all but Pochettino’s first year at the helm. But they actually took a step back in the domestic table, finishing fourth behind Chelsea, Liverpool and champion Manchester City, and just a point above chief rival Arsenal, after placing third in 2018 and runner-up the year before. Taking that final leap from top-four regular to legitimate, perennial title contender won’t be easy.
Still, Tottenham appears to want to get there. Pochettino remains their manager, for one thing, no small victory after the Argentine — who has built a reputation as one of the top young bosses in the sport — was linked to Manchester United and Real Madrid earlier in the year. And for the first time in a long time, he actually had the chance to improve his team this summer.
Spurs made history 12 months ago when they became the first Prem club not to sign a single player before the new season. They stood pat again in January, making them the only top-flight team not to bring in any new recruits in consecutive transfer windows. It wasn’t an ideal situation and it wasn’t an accident; with that $1.2 billion stadium to pay for, the funds to buy fresh talent just weren’t available.
The team continued to punch above its weight with a balanced roster led by young English stars like Harry Kane and Dele Alli, experienced European veterans like World Cup-winning French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, Belgian center backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, and attackers Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura.
When newly promoted Aston Villa arrives at Tottenham Hotspur stadium on Saturday to kick off the new season, though, Spurs will have at least one new arrival — French midfielder Tanguy Ndombele — at its disposal.
Chairman Daniel Levy found nearly $67 million plus add-ons to ink the 22-year-old playmaker from Lyon. And Ndombele, who has been compared to countryman Paul Pogba, wasted no time in showing off his quality, assisting on a Moura goal with his first touch as a Tottenham player in an International Champions Cup match against Juventus last month.
Other newcomers could arrive before the transfer window slams shut on Thursday night; reports early Tuesday had Spurs trying to close deals on Sporting Lisbon midfielder Bruno Fernandes and/or Real Betis’ Giovani Lo Celso, who would serve as Danish maestro Christian Eriksen’s replacement should Eriksen leave for Manchester United. Pochettino has lost only one regular from last season so far, as English national team right back Kieran Trippier moved to Atletico Madrid for $24 million — a nice return on a player that cost them less than a quarter of that four years ago.
So overall, it’s a good time to be a Spurs fan. On the other hand, it’s become hard to quantify what a successful season would look like. That elusive league title would still seem to be beyond them, with City and Liverpool the clear favorites to pace the Prem once again. A return to the Champions League final seems almost as unlikely. And while a top-four finish is expected now, there are no guarantees in the planet’s most competitive circuit.
It says a lot about how far the club has come under Pochettino that anything less than a Champions League berth would be seen as a disaster for Tottenham. At the same time, Spurs supporters will at some point demand something in the trophy case, some piece of tangible proof that their team has truly become one of England’s elite.
Yahoo Soccer’s Premier League Starting XI