There we were, now here we are. Tottenham Hotspur take on Norwich City on Saturday in their first match officially sans Gareth Bale (or as he is now known: the most expensive player in the world) and having suffered their first defeat of the season.
A little of Tottenham's early season optimism has dimmed following that 1-0 loss to Arsenal, their first serious test of 2013-14. The more experienced Gunners starting XI were more telling in their creativity and stifling in their defensive efforts.
Spurs' lineup featured five new signings and two returning loan players. On paper, it was a team good enough to get a positive result. In practice, it was clear work still needs to be done in making this side truly tick.
That is not surprising given the changes Spurs have undergone. The absence of Bale in particular could well cast a shadow over the club as they attempt to get similar productivity out of the summer's expensive recruits—notably Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen.
Challenging though this task may be, manager Andre Villas-Boas evidently has faith in his ability to bring the best out of his refashioned squad. How quickly he is able to do so will make for a fascinating watch over the coming weeks.
The aforementioned trio could well be chosen to lead Spurs' attack against Norwich.
The lack of genuine service to Soldado has been one of the North London club's key failures this season in Premier League play. Enough was done against Crystal Palace and Swansea City to get by, but more was needed against a tougher Arsenal back line.
Installing Eriksen and Lamela in the team for their first starts would certainly be a proactive approach here.
Between them, the two have skill and vision in abundance. Villas-Boas would be banking on their talent coming to the fore immediately, and should that happen, goal-poacher Soldado would benefit from the greater penetration they would provide.
The subsequent decision is who misses out as a result?
Villas-Boas could deploy Eriksen at the head of a three-man midfield, or both he and Lamela could replace Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli operating from the flanks (not necessarily as wingers, but more advanced than their midfield teammates).
This writer believes the Portuguese may opt for the latter.
Chadli has impressed fleetingly, but not enough to necessarily avoid being dropped. Townsend missing out would be a little harsher following his strong start to the season.
Mousa Dembele and Paulinho are still developing an understanding, but along with Sandro, it is likely this more physically inclined midfield might be chosen to take on their Norwich counterparts.
Canaries boss Chris Hughton's recruitment of Leroy Fer has helped give his side a more combative approach in midfield. Bradley Johnson will probably play alongside him, and the pair will endeavour to not give Tottenham an inch.
Both the Spurs midfield and defense will have been made aware of the threat of Nathan Redmond. The England under-21 international is a strong, direct runner who cannot be allowed too much space—as demonstrated superbly by his winner versus Southampton two weekends ago.
Redmond and the equally lively Robert Snodgrass will come up against Spurs full-back pair Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. In between them will likely be Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen.
Spurs' back four did not enjoy their finest afternoon against Arsenal. Their disorganisation in the build-up to Olivier Giroud's goal bore a worrying resemblance to their worst defensive moments of last season (though, in fairness, they tightened up as the match progressed).
With Younes Kaboul nearing full fitness and Vlad Chiriches in contention for his first appearance, Villas-Boas has room to manoeuvre.
For now, the familiar pairing of Dawson and Vertonghen should be called upon to deal with the similarly tall Canaries frontmen Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Johan Elmander (Saturday may be a little too soon for Gary Hooper to return). It will not just be an aerial battle, but Spurs should be prepared for Norwich to go this route from time to time.
Despite a tough week on international duty with France, Hugo Lloris will be in goal for Spurs.
The Frenchman has arguably been their standout player this season. Villas-Boas will be calling on more of the same from him as Tottenham look to get back to winning ways.
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