Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham: 6 Things to Watch for in Spurs' EPL Opener

Frank WagnerCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2013

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham: 6 Things to Watch for in Spurs' EPL Opener

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    Tottenham's Premier League season kicks off Sunday afternoon in South London with a trip to Crystal Palace.

    The match marks the first step in the club's annual pursuit of a top-four finish and the Champions League berth that comes with it.

    After the past three seasons saw Spurs fall agonizingly short of the cut-off line, supporters are desperate to see the North Londoners find their way back into Europe's top competition.

    Further, with some high-profile players and potential superstars now at White Hart Lane, earning a place in the Champions League this season could be vital to Tottenham's progression.

    On the other side, Crystal Palace enter the season with far more humble hopes.

    After scraping through the Championship playoffs last season, the Eagles would probably be happy to just survive the season and keep their spot in the Premier League.

    However, Palace is still a dangerous side and will surely be looking to get their season off on the right foot in front of a home crowd.

    So what should one expect heading into this match?

    Here are six things to watch for in Tottenham's Premier League opener with Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Can Spurs Overcome Their Opening-Day Jinx?

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    Over the past seven seasons, Tottenham has managed to win just one opening-day Premier League match while drawing another.

    It may come as no surprise that the one season they won that match came in 2009-10, when they defeated Liverpool 2-1 and went on to qualify for the Champions League for the first time.

    Last season's 2-1 loss at Newcastle was a prime example of Spurs' first-match woes, as they recovered from 1-0 down to equalize in the 76th minute before conceding a silly penalty mere minutes later.

    Spurs will be hoping to buck this losing trend Sunday against Crystal Palace and get their season off on the right foot.

    If they win, perhaps an even more interesting trend will develop, establishing a connection between the season's opening-day result Tottenham's success in qualifying for the Champions League.

How Will the Debutantes Get On?

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    A relatively busy transfer window has seen Tottenham amass some great new talent across the field.

    Last year's striker woes were obvious, but Spurs are hoping that record signing Roberto Soldado will shore up the front end and put the ball in the back of the net.

    Brazilian Paulinho made a big-money move from Corinthians right after helping Brazil to the Confederations Cup title and will surely start in the center of the midfield.

    Nacer Chadli was added to the Belgian names at White Hart Lane, switching to Tottenham from Twente a few weeks ago. With Gareth Bale hurt, the youngster will get a chance to prove himself on the left wing.

    Even Etienne Capoue, who signed with Spurs mere days ago, has a chance to get some playing time as Sandro is just coming off of a lengthy injury.

    Tottenham and its supporters should be interested in watching these players carefully to see just how well they adjust to a new club and a new league.

    If all works out as planned, there will be no adjustment period and this lot will hit the ground running.

The Fallen Return

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    Last season, a few horrible injuries sidelined both Younes Kaboul and Sandro for huge chunks of the campaign.

    Now, both are looking to make their first-team returns in this season opener.

    For Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen's injury has cleared the path for a place in the starting lineup and a chance to prove that he belongs in that position.

    On the other side, Sandro's place in the starting lineup could go either way for this one, though he would be a likely substitute should he be held out. However, his status as a starter in the side is indisputable.

    Will these players return to the club in the same form in which they left? Or have their serious injuries taken a toll on them?

How Will Spurs Cope Without Bale?

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    Over the past several months, much has been made of Tottenham being a one-man team, with Gareth Bale single-handedly running the show.

    While this assertion is a caricature of the club's situation, there is no denying that Bale carried the side through portions of last season.

    There are reasonable explanations for Spurs' overreliance on Bale, such as the horrific striker situation they found themselves in, but the fact is that the club went as the Welshman went last season.

    Thankfully, the new summer signings at White Hart Lane were made in the hope that Tottenham could function reasonably well without Bale in the lineup, allowing their superstar to merely add his talents on top of the base of talent that was already there.

    Perhaps Spurs are more prepared for Bale to miss a match, but the club will see its first test on opening day, what with the Welshman set to sit on the bench with a slight knock.

    Just how well will Tottenham be able to cope in the absence of Bale?

The Battle for Left-Back

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    With Benoit Assou-Ekotto putting in an inconsistent campaign at White Hart Lane and Danny Rose shining in a loan stint last season, Tottenham's left-back position is suddenly wide open.

    Assou-Ekotto has held the spot for the better part of five seasons, establishing a fine partnership with Bale down the left flank.

    However, with Bale shifting to a more central role and BAE's form suffering, the 23-year-old Rose has become a more and more attractive prospect.

    Rose seems likely to start the opener against Palace, but the matter is far from settled.

    How the first few matches play out could determine who plays full-back and who sits on the Tottenham bench through the rest of the season.

Tactical Shifts

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    From the moment he came to the Premier League, manager Andre Villas-Boas was seen as one of the master technicians in the world of football.

    After he seemingly tried to change too much too quickly at Chelsea and failed to last a season, Villas-Boas came to Tottenham with a new approach.

    In his debut season last year, the Portuguese manager adapted his style to Spurs' strengths and weaknesses, allowing Bale to roam free and attempting to protect the defense with shields in the center of the midfield.

    Over the summer, though, rampant speculation has arisen about AVB's plans going forward.

    The signings the club has made this summer have pointed to a possible shift in approach, as Villas-Boas could now be looking to adapt the side to fit his strengths and weaknesses.

    One big change that could be seen is a 4-3-3 formation a la the one AVB employed at Porto, with Sandro playing a deep holding role in the midfield.

    Seeing whether these changes really take place before the opener, and if they do, just how they will affect the club's approach to the game, should be an exciting prospect for Spurs fans.

    Sunday should be an interesting experience.