Last season couldn't have gotten off on a poorer note for Tottenham Hotspur, who managed just a single goal in its first two games while conceding eight to the Manchester sides (3-0 to United, 1-5 to City).
While a trip to Old Trafford is one of the crueler ways to kick off any campaign, Spurs weren't helped by the fact that their creative maestro, Luka Modric, had effectively removed himself from the conversation while angling for a move to Chelsea.
Modric did have a slight groin injury for the United match, but it was quite telling that Harry Redknapp, then the team's manager, told reporters that the injury wasn't severe enough to preclude participation.
Rather, Redknapp said that Modric's head "was not in the right place."
The midfielder's departure would have been crippling last season, as Tottenham had not seen to replacing him. When the move to Chelsea fizzled—the arrival of Juan Mata at Stamford Bridge dampening the Blues' interest—Modric stayed on at his side of then-three seasons, and was a key force in the drive for an eventual fourth-place in the league standings.
Modric has been training apart from the rest of the Tottenham side, and will not join the club for its trip to Tyneside for a high-profile opener against Newcastle United.
Andre Villas-Boas, brought in as Redknapp's managerial replacement ahead of this season, has said that the protracted Modric saga "is not a distraction," and has already begun lining up replacements should the midfielder move to Madrid.
While the protracted transfer may not be affecting the side's mentality—Villas-Boas would never admit to it, anyway—there's no denying that a player of Modric's immense quality will always be missed, particularly in the hub of Tottenham's midfield, which has been such a strength in recent seasons.
Thankfully, Daniel Levy moved quickly this offseason to add quality to that area of the park, perhaps with an inkling that Modric would be on his way.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Player of the Month last March for Swansea City—the first player ever to win the award for the Welsh club—was a driving force to the promoted side's eventual 11th-place finish in the league standings.
On loan from Hoffenheim for the second half of the season, Sigurdsson had quickly taken to the fluid style of play employed by Brendan Rodgers's side, and looked set to join on a permanent transfer at the end of the season.
But that was before Rodgers left for Liverpool. The move evaporated, and Sigurdsson instead signed for Spurs.
His creative flourish will be a welcome addition alongside stalwart Rafael van der Vaart, and with the everpresent menace of Gareth Bale down the wings, Tottenham still have every reason to feel confident this season.
While there is a severe shortage of strikers currently on the books—Louis Saha moved on to Sunderland, and Emmanuel Adebayor has yet to finalize a permanent move to White Hart Lane—Tottenham still have Jermain Defoe, who scored a terrific goal for England in midweek.
The attacking threat will always be there, and Sigurdsson has the added benefit of half a season of top-flight English football under his belt. Considering his ever-present menace from free kicks, nose for goal during the run of play and ability to pick a pass—Modric specialties all—the Croatian may not be as sorely missed as had once been thought.
A brittle back line will always be cause for concern—Michael Dawson is fit for the moment, and even captained Spurs in their friendly against New York Red Bulls—but the departures of William Gallas (QPR) and Ledley King (retirement)—will hurt.
There remains quality in the ranks, however. Younes Kaboul has pledged his future to the club, and new signing Jan Vertonghen will be angling for a spot in the first-team lineup as well.
There's plenty of reason to be optimistic, perhaps more so than last season. That Modric's departure is an inevitability at this point, rather than a protracted possibility whose uncertainty rankles the side's spirit, will be to their benefit.
Talent has been brought in, and more may be on the way. For now, Newcastle awaits.
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