In his first Premier League match as Tottenham helmsman, Mauricio Pochettino will travel to West Ham United before receiving his first taste of a North London derby atmosphere in round six of the campaign, travelling to Arsenal on September 27.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride—that sentiment, or at least one similar, is probably passing around White Hart Lane after the past several years.
Last season, Spurs finished a disappointing sixth, as the major signings brought in to replace Gareth Bale were never able to fill the void left by the Real Madrid man. In fact, throughout much of the year, the club seemed to be sorely missing a match-winner or a player to build their attack around.
Of course, trying to play under two managers—Andre Villas-Boas, who was axed in December, and Tim Sherwood, who was shown the door after the season—didn't help matters. Perhaps new-man Pochettino—who led Southampton to eighth place in the table last season—can inspire the team and, in the process, inspire chairman Daniel Levy to give him a longer leash than he affords most managers.
There is talent in this squad, of course, and signings surely to come. For Spurs, the goal is simple—finish in the top four and earn Champions League football. Let's take a look at which teams they'll have to face to accomplish the feat.
|Aug 16||3 p.m. BST||West Ham United (a)|
|Aug 23||3 p.m. BST||Queens Park Rangers (h)|
|Aug 30||3 p.m. BST||Liverpool (h)|
|Sept 13||3 p.m. BST||Sunderland (a)|
|Sept 20||3 p.m. BST||West Bromwich Albion (h)|
|Sept 27||3 p.m. BST||Arsenal (a)|
|Oct 4||3 p.m. BST||Southampton (h)|
|Oct 18||3 p.m. BST||Manchester City (a)|
|Oct 25||3 p.m. BST||Newcastle United (h)|
|Nov 1||3 p.m. GMT||Aston Villa (a)|
|Nov 8||3 p.m. GMT||Stoke City (h)|
|Nov 22||3 p.m. GMT||Hull City (a)|
|Nov 29||3 p.m. GMT||Everton (h)|
|Dec 3||7:45 p.m. GMT||Chelsea (a)|
|Dec 6||3 p.m. GMT||Crystal Palace (h)|
|Dec 13||3 p.m. GMT||Swansea City (a)|
|Dec 20||3 p.m. GMT||Burnley (h)|
|Dec 26||3 p.m. GMT||Leicester City (a)|
|Dec 28||3 p.m. GMT||Manchester United (h)|
|Jan 1||3 p.m. GMT||Chelsea (h)|
|Jan 10||3 p.m. GMT||Crystal Palace (a)|
|Jan 17||3 p.m. GMT||Sunderland (h)|
|Jan 31||3 p.m. GMT||West Bromwich Albion (a)|
|Feb 7||3 p.m. GMT||Arsenal (h)|
|Feb 10||8 p.m. GMT||Liverpool (a)|
|Feb 21||3 p.m. GMT||West Ham United (h)|
|Feb 28||3 p.m. GMT||Queens Park Rangers (a)|
|March 4||7:45 p.m. GMT||Swansea City (h)|
|March 14||3 p.m. GMT||Manchester United (a)|
|March 21||3 p.m. GMT||Leicester City (h)|
|April 4||3 p.m. BST||Burnley (a)|
|April 11||3 p.m. BST||Aston Villa (h)|
|April 18||3 p.m. BST||Newcastle United (a)|
|April 25||3 p.m. BST||Southampton (a)|
|May 2||3 p.m. BST||Manchester City (h)|
|May 9||3 p.m. BST||Stoke City (a)|
|May 16||3 p.m. BST||Hull City (h)|
|May 24||3 p.m. BST||Everton (a)|
If Tottenham are to crack the top four this season, they'll need to do better than the nine of a possible 36 points they took against Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United. Wins over Manchester United and Everton were highlights, but two league losses to Arsenal (and an FA Cup loss, to boot) will surely haunt the Spurs faithful well into next season.
That will add a bit of vigour to an already intense rivalry with the Gunners, and next year's North London derbies should be as intense as ever.
But every match against the top-seven clubs from last year will be vital. Manchester United will surely be improved, Liverpool are revitalised, Everton look a potent club under Roberto Martinez and the trio of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal are regular top-four fixtures.
The game against Southampton should have some extra importance this year as well, as Pochettino returns to the club for which he brought so much success in 2013-14. For those remaining with the Saints after this summer's purging of the club's talent, the game should be meaningful.
There are positives to build around for Pochettino at Tottenham. Christian Eriksen has star potential. Erik Lamela did little last season but he's young and brimming with talent. Before injury, Andros Townsend played well. Paulinho was brilliant in spurts, lacklustre in chunks, but Pochettino's style will suit him. Roberto Soldado was a bust, but perhaps his new manager will awaken him. Jan Vertonghen is sturdy at the back.
That doesn't mean Pochettino's appointment is without some worry, as Gabriele Marcotti of ESPN FC notes:
A more legitimate concern is his style of play. At St Mary's, he had a dynamic, energetic front four that often pressed high up the pitch. Guys like Eriksen, Adebayor and Soldado don't fit that mould, which means that, barring a hefty turnover of personnel, he'll have to come up with something different.
Can he? That's the challenge. We tend to think of managers having fixed-in-stone philosophies and identities but the best ones adapt to what they have and Pochettino will need to prove he can do that. This move is a step up for him and, for Spurs, a gamble on a promising manager.
It's a squad in development, and one that will be tweaked this summer. And the new man praised the talent at his disposal when he was hired, per the Associated Press, via SI.com:
This is a club with tremendous history and prestige and I am honored to have been given this opportunity to be its head coach. There is an abundance of top-class talent at the club and I am looking forward to starting work with the squad. We are determined to give the supporters the kind of attacking football and success that we are all looking to achieve.
This Tottenham squad is certainly accustomed to adjusting to a new manager, so that will be nothing new. But they must make their adjustments quickly and prove they can thrive in the post-Bale world they now live in.
If they don't, they could find themselves dropping even lower than sixth in the table this season, which would see them fall right out of the bridal party altogether.
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