Ranking 10 Spurs Players with Biggest Point to Prove in Pre-Season
Tottenham Hotspur play their first match of pre-season on Saturday when they take on Seattle Sounders.
The first of three fixtures on their North American tour, it is a more testing re-introduction for the players than the lower-league opposition that typically greets their return for summer.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino outlined to the club's official website that preparation rather than results is the objective. Nonetheless, each player will be looking to impress ahead of the new season.
A couple of weeks ago, this writer looked at five players who had the most to prove to Pochettino specifically. Accounting for the natural overlap here, we now examine and rank the 10 players with the most to prove overall this pre-season.
Those guys are attempting to convince their new manager of their worth after a tough 2013-14. Others on this list are seeking to build on an encouraging campaign, and some are looking to establish themselves completely.
An attempt to gauge the urgency for each player is the chief criteria for this list. A few notable players like Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris will certainly be just as keen to get going well in pre-season. But their respective statuses are less in need of boosting than some.
Ultimately this writer's opinion judges where the players are ranked. Yours may well differ.
First up, one of two Spaniards on this list...
10. Iago Falque
Since joining the club in 2012, Iago Falque's Tottenham career has yet to get going.
Falque appeared 28 times as Rayo finished 12th in La Liga.
The winger's performances in his native Spain caught the eye, with his mazy dribbles a considerable calling card. Although it was a worthwhile experience, Bleacher Report's Allan Jiang detailed in March that it was not a playing environment entirely suited to Falque.
Now 24, he will be keen to find a place that is.
His time in Spain should ensure he has some suitors if he decides it is not Spurs. Making it work in north London will be the priority, though.
With a new manager at the helm, Falque has a clean slate to show why he could be useful to Spurs. Impress now in pre-season and he might get the chance to stake a first-team claim in more competitive competition.
9. Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson's Tottenham future is uncertain for the time being.
Attempts from Hull City to sign the defender are at a "stalemate" according to Tigers manager Steve Bruce, via the Daily Mirror's David Anderson. The Daily Express' Ben Jefferson describes Dawson, along with Gylfi Sigurdsson as, "refusing to leave White Hart Lane."
Judging by these reports, it is a complicated situation. It may be the case Dawson ultimately decides to stay and fight for his place, as he did two years ago with then-manager Andre Villas-Boas.
The Spurs skipper succeeded on that occasion, convincing the Portuguese of his error in temporarily casting him aside.
Dawson may now have to do so again with Pochettino.
Such a process could last well into the season, as it did in 2012. The first steps of proving himself will take place in the remainder of pre-season. The hard-working centre-back's character will not for a second be in question, but he must convince Pochettino he can handle the demands of how he wants Spurs to play.
8. Aaron Lennon
Aaron Lennon's form dipped considerably last season for the first time in his Tottenham career.
As this writer examined a couple of weeks ago, age is beginning to have an impact on the 27-year-old's game in a way it never previously has. Adjustments need to be made for his diminishing speed, using it as a feature, rather than the defining aspect, of his game.
That process will begin with his first pre-season action.
The style Pochettino will look to implement at Spurs could see a move away from wingers as part of a midfield four, the predominant system in which Lennon has been deployed.
The wide man could thrive amid the tighter confines of a front three as a still-nippy operator capable of quick give-and-go passing exchanges. His defensive ability makes him suitable to any in-game alterations that would require him dropping deeper too.
The upcoming games are Lennon's chance to give Pochettino reason to believe in him moving forward. With the right effort, the Englishman is still good enough to be an integral part of his new boss' side. It just might be in a different—at least slightly so—role to what he is used to.
7. Danny Rose
For Danny Rose, this summer is his chance to put into practice all he has learned over the last few years since becoming a left-back.
After really growing into the position on loan at Sunderland in 2012-13, his first season as first-choice in the role at Spurs had its challenges. Not helped by an early injury, the former left-midfielder's performances would best be described as inconsistent.
With the Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel reporting Spurs could be set to drop their interest in Swansea City's Ben Davies—rumoured to be Pochettino's preferred choice to be his left-back—Rose could now have extra incentive to play well this summer.
He has an immediate chance in America to show he can be better heading into the new season.
Rose definitely has talent as a full-back. He is quick and aggressive at both ends of the pitch, a capable tackler and a player with some final-third aptitude.
Spurs will need to see greater overall effort, meaning less of him casually jogging back after a run forward. Generally speaking, a more consistent application of his aforementioned attributes would alleviate any fears Pochettino has about using him regularly.
Paulinho's pre-season will be briefer than many of his team-mates' after a summer spent on international duty.
After an ultimately disappointing World Cup campaign with Brazil, both team-wise and individually, his return to Tottenham will be about reaffirming his status as the player they bought a year ago.
Paulinho arrived in England off the back of a Confederations Cup in which he had impressed with his much-touted box-to-box style—particularly on the attacking side of things.
There were glimmers of it throughout his first season in England, but largely it was a case of diminishing returns as the season progressed. The Paulinho on show at the World Cup largely lacked the verve and adventure that had marked his previous international tournament experience.
The 25-year-old is more than capable of getting back on track. A bright start to his 2014-15 would be useful.
5. Andros Townsend
Andros Townsend's star burned brightly in the first few months of 2013-14 before dimming from about November onwards.
The winger capitalised on the injury-enforced absence of Lennon with a clutch of eye-catching, if not always productive, displays. Clearly raw in many respects, his speed and bravery nonetheless marked him out as a dangerous weapon.
England manager Roy Hodgson certainly grasped this, utilising Townsend to help seal the country's World Cup qualification. The downside of this was he became a marked man in the Premier League, running out of ideas against teams now better prepared for him.
His own injury problems and the return to fitness of Lennon limited his game time heading into 2014. Damaged ligaments in his ankle ended his campaign prematurely in April.
The 23-year-old is past the point where he can expect to have youthful potential indulged. While he will still have some leeway, for the most part he is going to be expected to produce for Spurs.
The summer's friendlies are Townsend's early chance to show he has made improvements to his game. Better judgement in front of goal and variations in his methods of beating opponents are chief among the areas where they would be welcome.
With those developments, Townsend's pace and indefatigable spirit could become even more potent threats for Tottenham.
4. Erik Lamela
The ups and downs of Erik Lamela's first season in England—underwhelming form, injuries and general issues with settling in—have been so widely covered they do not need going over again in great detail.
Tottenham spent almost £30 million on signing the highly rated Argentinian from Roma after he excelled in Serie A.
The club will want to see some return on that, and Lamela will naturally want to deliver it as he goes about proving his value.
If just to begin proving the doubters wrong, the attacker will be desperate to impress right from the off in pre-season action.
Evidence of a bit more aggression in Lamela's game and signs he has developed something of a rapport with his team-mates would be a good place to start.
3. Roberto Soldado
Roberto Soldado is in a similar situation to that described for Lamela on the previous page.
Big price tag, disappointing form in his first season in England, uncertainty about the forward's future.
Whether Pochettino fancies Soldado to be a key part of his attack will become apparent soon enough. What is certain, for the Spaniard to convince him, he will at least need to start finding the net with some frequency.
This writer wrote a couple of weeks ago of Soldado, "pre-season is a difficult gauge of such form, but confidence-wise it will be vital to him moving forward."
Goals are the striker's livelihood and his passion. There is no time like the present for Soldado to remind himself of that.
2. Tom Carroll
Tom Carroll will be looking to replicate what his fellow youth-team products Townsend and Harry Kane did last season and break into the Tottenham first-team.
Like those two, Carroll has gained decent experience mostly in cup competition for Spurs, and he has spent considerable time out on loan.
Now 22, the midfielder will be looking to take a step forward and become a regular contributor.
Unlike Kane and Townsend, Carroll has more competition to deal with in central midfield. Even with the sale of Jake Livermore earlier this summer, there is a good six to nine others competing for what at most might be three positions.
Carroll's passing bares comparison with most of them. His key advantage as a player, though, is his greater understanding of the need to facilitate progression up the pitch through movement and offering himself up as an option.
Pochettino's background in Argentina and Spain might make him receptive to this. Carroll will at least be hoping he is intrigued enough by his skill set to test him out this summer and give him a fair shake.
1. Lewis Holtby
The player perhaps standing in Carroll's way could be Lewis Holtby.
Both share good instincts for maximising the space around them, though the latter is more comfortable going forward.
Only a year older than Carroll, Holtby's previous experience in the Bundesliga marks him out as the senior player. Unfortunately for the German, that has not always been so evident in his 18 months since joining Tottenham.
For different reasons he never quite convinced Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood he should be a regular starter (despite the former signing him).
Despite Holtby's agent Marcus Noack telling Sky Sports' Lyall Thomas about the player's optimism under the new Pochettino regime, he still has a lot of work to do.
As noted with Carroll, there is big competition for places in midfield. Holtby has to convince Pochettino he offers something the others do not and that he is good enough to produce it on a regular basis.
Personality-wise, Holtby's particularly overt enthusiasm stands out. It has been seen in the efforts of his performances but has not had such a telling effect yet to make him indispensable.
Showing Pochettino he is willing to learn and do his job will stand him in good stead. The key, unsurprisingly, will be implementing it.
With Mousa Dembele and Paulinho yet to return from their later holidays this summer, Holtby is head of the queue of those midfielders with more creative leanings to get some game time early on in North America.
If he wants more than a bit-part role at Tottenham this season, now is the time for him to show it.
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