Predicting Tottenham Hotspur's Starting XI on Opening Day of 2014-15 EPL Season
Tottenham Hotspur kick off their 2014-15 Premier League campaign in three months' time.
With a World Cup and a whole actual summer to enjoy, we should not wish that time away. Still, with another fascinating season ahead for Tottenham, a little speculation about what the team will look like won't hurt.
The caveat at this early stage is we do not know what is in store for the north London club who are, of course, currently manager-less. Transfer targets, potential departures, information gleaned from pre-season—it is all still in the pipeline.
So the following prediction of Spurs' starting XI is certainly speculative in those respects. Naturally, a lot of what is suggested is based on what we learned from last season.
Certain players will be definitively predicted for a specific position—eg. no surprises here, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Others who are less certain will be noted as such, with a look at whether they face competition from team-mates or any new arrivals.
First up, the formality of the goalkeeper situation.
Hugo Lloris would have been an ever-present for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League last season, but for the unfortunate head injury he suffered away at Everton. Its occurrence just prior to the international break meant he ended up missing just one game.
With Heurelho Gomes' impending departure—confirmed this past week on Tottenham's official website—Lloris should now take on the actual number to go with his status as the club's No. 1 goalkeeper.
As far as the Frenchman's remaining back-up, according to the Premier League's retained and released list (issued this past Friday via their official website) Brad Friedel has been offered an extension to his expiring contract. Youth team goalkeeper Jordan Archer may be deemed ready if the American does not extend, though the 21-year-old's only first team experience remains loan spells with Bishop's Stortford and Wycombe Wanderers.
Recruiting another goalkeeper from elsewhere will be tricky. Spurs will want someone dependable in the event of Lloris being absent but also someone content to wait his turn as Friedel has.
So, easier said than done on that count. Whoever the new manager is, though, he will be happy to have a first-choice the calibre of Lloris to call on already.
Last October Kyle Walker signed a contract extension with Tottenham until 2019. It does not guarantee him a starting place, but it was a show of faith in the player they see developing into over time.
Despite Kyle Naughton finishing the past season well in Walker's absence, the general recognition of the latter as a more prominent, and better-rated player, should see him get the nod to resume right-back duties in August. The fairness in overlooking Naughton's contributions depends on how much you rate him, but he is looking at remaining chief back-up in the position if he sticks around.
Danny Rose keeping his left-back spot is conditional on how his first year-proper playing the position for Spurs is viewed.
Speaking to the Tottenham & Wood Green Journal's Ben Pearce earlier this month, recently sacked Spurs manager Tim Sherwood stressed the need for patience with Rose. Given he had come to playing full-back later, he is still learning how to work consistently there.
"The fans want to improve all the time but there’s no guarantee that someone’s going to come in from the outside and be any better than Danny Rose or any other player," Sherwood sensibly remarked.
The prospect of Rose finding consistency in his game could well tempt the new manager into sticking with him.
On his day he is quick and often incisive in attack. Defensively, he has a combative side which stands him in good stead when he is there to front up to an opponent. His 53 per cent successfully completed tackles—as tallied by Squawka—is respectable, but a little way short of other English left-backs like Everton's Leighton Baines (60 per cent) and Southampton's Luke Shaw (59 per cent).
The 23-year-old has a troubling habit of being caught out of position, though, and an even more frustrating tendency to just jog back in such situations. A similarly capable (or even better) full-back who works even harder would be hard to pass up. But as Sherwood noted, if that someone is not available, the club may decide to trust in Rose's ability to hone his game.
Strengthening in the position altogether may depend on how much faith there is in Zeki Fryers as a long-term option there (though Sherwood told the aforementioned Journal writer he, at least, saw the young Englishman becoming a centre-back).
Andre Villas-Boas' decision to drop Tottenham captain Michael Dawson prior to the start of the Portuguese's first season shows reputation and standing mean little if a manager rates others ahead of you.
Villas-Boas eventually—and correctly—changed his opinion on Dawson, understanding the need for genuine leadership in any defence. Having gone through that, the 30-year-old will not be complacent about his chances of starting heading into this upcoming campaign.
Dawson has proved himself a strong Spurs skipper. At least to begin with, it makes sense for him to continue as the team's on-pitch lieutenant.
The identity of the man joining him in central defence is tougher to predict. Younes Kaboul appears to have been kept on at the club going by his retained status in the aforementioned Premier League list.
Alongside Dawson, Vlad Chiriches formed the best defensive partnership Spurs had at any stage last season. Assuming he stays, though, it will be hard for any incoming coach to ignore Jan Vertonghen.
A fully-fit and focused Vertonghen is a defender whose reputation precedes him—a centre-back who falls under the category of "cultured," but at his best has bite about him, too.
Metro reported last week the Belgian is waiting on the identity of the new man before deciding his future. Though more recent quotes from the player himself—via Sky Sports—suggest he is content either way.
If his head is already gone from Spurs, keeping him around may be fighting a losing battle. If he is fine, or should the appointment prove satisfactory, a defender akin to the one who so impressed in his first campaign in England is a component no coach would choose to ignore.
Altogether, Tottenham playing with a back-four is a reasonable assumption to make. It is still the predominant choice for setting up a defence in England and abroad.
Further forward, things are a little tougher to predict.
Spurs alternated formations last season. The new manager may have a preferred set-up (more like Villas-Boas), or favour a more flexible approach (like Sherwood).
In predicting how the midfield and attack will look for opening day 2014, two trends/developments from last season influenced the forthcoming selections.
Even with some likely departures, Spurs will still have a number of their current central midfielders. Secondly, the importance of wingers to the team's style decreased in the wake of Gareth Bale's sale and intermittent effective campaigns from Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend.
The latter pair are still talented options to call upon. But while Townsend certainly still has time to improve and earn a regular starting spot, at the moment it is not so imperative to accommodate either. Especially with the form and/or potential of others more demanding of a starting spot.
The following midfield three is based on the assumption the team's full-backs will provide width either side of them. What the new manager has in mind for young players like Nabil Bentaleb and Tom Carroll is uncertain, too, with the seniority of others perhaps seeing them edged out to begin with.
Injuries and disagreements with Sherwood hurt Sandro in 2014. But in a second-half cameo against West Ham United, and a strong showing against Aston Villa, the defensive midfielder reminded everyone why aggression and discipline are useful anchors to the more adventurous inclinations of a team.
Paulinho had down periods last seasons, but he was one of the more successful of Spurs' summer signings.
When instructed, he did not shirk defensive responsibilities. However, his clearly preferred strong suit was joining in his side's attacks, resulting in a creditable eight goals.
With a year's Premier League experience, and possibly off the back of a successful World Cup campaign, a confident Paulinho will be expected to up his production even further.
Selecting Mousa Dembele for the last spot was the toughest call. The aforementioned Bentaleb and Carroll, Etienne Capoue, Lewis Holtby and Gylfi Sigurdsson all have their own credentials. A new signing could yet join the fray if one or more of the current midfielders departs.
Dembele is a player whose attributes understandably appeal to coaches, though. Strong and skillful, his success winning tackles and taking others on reflect his ability to impact on both sides of the ball.
His 91 per cent average pass accuracy was the best of any Spurs player to play more than one game last season—as recorded by Squawka—demonstrating his reliability here. Still under scrutiny, however, is his ability (or is that willingness?) to impact games in the final third.
It is not a midfield trio to delight those wanting revolution. Heck, even perhaps evolution. But it is balanced, and of those immediately available to the incoming coach, will provide decent support to the likely next part of the team.
Fitting in Christian Eriksen was never a chore for Villas-Boas and Sherwood. But in the context of assembling a balanced team over the course of the season—not to mention having different interpretations of the capabilities of certain players—Sherwood especially knew he could fit the Dane in anywhere and usually get a good performance.
It paid off to the extent the bulk of his best work came in 2014. Even with some fans concerned at him operating on the periphery out in left midfield, he still did enough to win their player of the season awards.
Orchestrating things is not always a possibility for a player marked for his creativity. But his quick-feet and adventurous passing means he is always liable to contribute, even periodically.
Therefore, getting Eriksen back at the centre of Tottenham's creative schemes will be a priority for the new coaching staff. With a year's familiarity of close, often physical English defending, he should be ready to withstand the attentions of a central role in a way he was not consistently suited for early in his Spurs career.
Emmanuel Adebayor continues to be one of the Premier League's most divisive players—talented but erratic, passionate but lazy.
The Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel linked him with a move to Monaco on Saturday. If he is still in north London come August, though, do not be surprised to see him back as the focal point of Spurs' attack.
The 14 goals he scored once back in the starting line-up last season served as enough a reminder of his quality that his new boss may only be too happy to take on the Togo international as a potentially productive project.
Selecting Erik Lamela as the last man in this predicted line-up was a back-and-forth decision.
Harry Kane finished the season strongly and is likely to see a more prominent role now. Getting the best out of Roberto Soldado is a worthy cause, albeit one with no guarantees. Lennon, Townsend or Nacer Chadli operating wide of a front three was also contemplated.
Choosing Lamela was based on the notion Spurs will be keen to see him make it at the club, and assuming he returns fit and firing in pre-season. Tactically speaking, his versatility as a second-striker who can also be moved out to the right wing chimed with the idea of a flexible three-man attack.
Predicted Starting XI Confirmation
Altogether, this predicted Tottenham starting XI is an attacking one. It places responsibility on the full-backs to get forward and provide width, as well as the midfielders' judgement and willingness to funnel into positions vacated by such moves.
It also puts faith in a front three embracing their creative instincts but doing so cohesively with each other and team-mates further behind.
There is a good chance the team will look somewhat (or perhaps vastly) different for the first game of the season. Based on where things stand right now, though, here is how things might look without much change to current player personnel.
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
Defence (from right to left): Kyle Walker, Michael Dawson (c), Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose.
Midfield: Paulinho, Sandro, Mousa Dembele.
Attacking midfield: Christian Eriksen.
Forwards: Erik Lamela, Emmanuel Adebayor.