Tottenham: Full Report Card for Every Position Entering Premier League Season
It is a potentially fiery opener for new manager Mauricio Pochettino. The Hammers beat Tottenham three times last season, so to a certain degree revenge will be on the minds of those at the North London club.
More importantly for Pochettino, it is his first chance to see in a competitive environment how his players have responded to the various demands placed upon them.
Over the following six pages this article takes a position-by-position look at how each of Tottenham's first-team players are shaping up heading into the new campaign. Each player will be graded on the basis of his current situation, influenced as it might be by last season's form, pre-season performances and the competition for places at his position.
Naturally this is not an exact science, with those on World Cup duty yet to feature in pre-season, while the club's new signings are coming into the squad with a completely fresh start. This will be considered and acknowledged in each player's grade.
We begin at the back with a goalkeeping situation which has notably changed since the end of last season.
Brad Friedel: C+
The American has been holding down the fort in pre-season, with Hugo Lloris and new signing Michel Vorm returning late from World Cup duty. Having signed a one-year contract extension, the 43-year-old has once again highlighted his usefulness to Tottenham.
With Vorm on the scene now, however, Friedel's first-team involvement will be largely limited to serving as cover in the event of his younger team-mates getting injured or suspended. A new ambassadorial role will be a likely lucrative accompaniment easing him into retirement.
Hugo Lloris: A+
Lloris has yet to feature in pre-season, but Spurs know where they stand with the France international. One of their most reliable performers in 2013-14, he reiterated his commitment to the club by signing a new five-year deal.
The first-choice goalkeeper spot is Lloris' to lose. If anything, the increased competition from another international standard goalkeeper, Vorm, should only help him improve.
Michel Vorm: B-
"I want to taste how it is to work and to play for a big club like Spurs," Vorm told Tottenham's official website following his transfer from Swansea City. Exciting as that may be for him, it also means he has a bigger fight on his hands to earn regular first-team football.
Vorm will need Spurs to progress in the Europa League and Capital One Cup if he is to play in more than a handful of games before Christmas. The North Londoners probably could not have hoped (realistically) to get a better backup to cover for Lloris than the Dutchman.
Vlad Chiriches: C-
Injury forced Chiriches out of Tottenham's North American tour, denying the Romanian the chance to impress his new manager. It was an undoubted blow, denying him an immediate chance to establish any momentum after he concluded his first year in England with patchy form after a bright opening few months.
Having not seen him feature in pre-season, it is difficult to gauge what Pochettino has in mind for Chiriches. He has it in him to force his way into his plans. It might be a case of waiting for his chance a little way into the season.
Michael Dawson: C-
Dawson took a couple of games to shake off his summer rustiness in pre-season. He was much improved alongside Milos Veljkovic against Chicago Fire, but then he left the Celtic game early through injury.
It was bad timing for the club captain, with speculation about his Spurs future seemingly gathering momentum and Pochettino adding to his centre-back ranks (see below). Dawson could prove to be part of the new boss' plans, but once again it is looking like he has a fight to play on his hands.
Eric Dier: C+
England U21 international Dier's route to the Premier League has come by way of a decade-long apprenticeship with Sporting Lisbon. Described by Tottenham as "versatile," The Guardian's David Hytner last week talked up his status as a good, all-round defender.
There are clearly high hopes for Dier. He will not have moved if he did not think he could immediately contribute to Spurs too. Even so, his integration could well be a gradual one with more experienced defenders already at the club.
Younes Kaboul: B
Carrying on from his largely positive finish to 2013-14, Kaboul has eased smoothly back into action this pre-season. After the injury problems of the past couple of years, he appears to be enjoying his football and is fit and in good form.
There will be more exacting tests to come, of course. But right now Kaboul has as good a chance of anyone at Spurs to stake a claim for a regular first-team place.
Milos Veljkovic: C
After a couple of run-outs in midfield late last season, Veljkovic has been deployed in central defence this summer. He appears to have won an admirer in Pochettino like he did in his predecessor, Tim Sherwood.
Still only 18, the Serbian is raw and still a little way off the first-team rotation. His performances in North America were encouraging, though, with his instinct not to shirk a tackle particularly pleasing at a time when footballers are becoming more mollycoddled (though his timing needs a little fine-tuning).
A good World Cup with Belgium has re-enhanced Vertonghen's reputation after an inconsistent, injury-hit season with Tottenham. That was at left-back, but the Mirror's Darren Lewis has been among those reporting Pochettino plans to deploy the 27-year-old at his preferred centre-back position.
Potentially trusted to lead the defence moving forward, Vertonghen looks set to become a prominent part of the new-look Spurs. The cultured defender must back up this faith in him with the solidity and reliability it demands.
Ben Davies: B+
Keeping a cool head, Davies' deliberate work in attack against Toronto has marked him out as a more restrained presence at left-back than Danny Rose. Handpicked by Pochettino from Swansea City, he has an extra degree of momentum on his side as one of the new boss' own players.
Rose sticking around means the Welshman does not have it all his own way, however. Defensively there will be pressure on him to hit the ground running, as Spurs look to establish some consistency at the back after a rough couple of years in that department.
Ryan Fredericks: C+
After his eye-catching appearance against Anzhi Makhachkala in the Europa League last season, Fredericks' penetrative work going forward has impressed again this summer. Quick and with a winger's eye for exploiting gaps, it is a weapon that will stand him in good stead.
He has yet to be tested defensively in a Spurs shirt, though. With Kyle Walker in command of the right-back spot, it is uncertain when he might get the opportunity to prove himself here.
Zeki Fryers: D
Fryers has spent time at centre-back and left-back during last season and this summer. He has looked more comfortable in the latter position in pre-season action, far more assured than in some nervy moments at centre-back.
The 21-year-old is facing a tall order in getting many minutes at left-back following the arrival of Davies, though. The best-case scenario for Fryers might be a loan move elsewhere this season so he can play more, before his situation is reevaluated next summer.
Kyle Naughton: B-
Naughton's increasingly solid work in the absence of the injured Walker towards the end of 2013-14 should not be forgotten. In an otherwise woeful loss to West Ham, he controlled his own flank impeccably and with admirable industry.
He has gradually been working his way into a rhythm in pre-season. But unless Pochettino goes against the perceived grain and prefers him ahead of the more recognised Walker, it is difficult to see Naughton getting much of a chance to build on his good finish to last season.
Danny Rose: B-
"We’ve brought in Ben Davies now and I’m hoping he can improve me, and likewise I’m hoping I can help him settle in and help him improve his game as well." So said Rose to TottenhamHotspur.com after signing a new five-year contract.
The left-back was figured to be facing an uncertain future with Davies' arrival. Now he knows he is staying, he still has plenty of work to do if he to become first choice ahead of the Welshman. But the club have certainly indicated their belief in his ability to at least try.
Kyle Walker: A-
Pre-season has not quite got going for Walker yet in terms of game time. Given his injury-hit 2014 thus far, he will be seeking to put a sequence of games together sooner rather than later.
Despite the stuttered return to fitness, the right-back spot is still the 24-year-old's to lose. He will be looking to up his game this year but has just about all the attributes needed to do so.
Nabil Bentaleb: B
Bentaleb will still be on a high after a good World Cup with Algeria concluded a first half of 2014 which saw him break into the Tottenham first team. The midfielder will almost certainly benefit from these unanticipated experiences as he continues his development.
The 19-year-old has proven himself to be a capable Premier League midfielder already. Sherwood trusted in his ability to get even better with more match time. Pochettino might not be quite such a backer initially, but he will find it hard to ignore Bentaleb soon enough.
Etienne Capoue: A-
Injury struck Capoue twice last season, just after he joined and in February, both times disrupting gathering momentum for the midfielder. If his pre-season form is anything to go by, the Frenchman is looking to make up for lost time.
Though up against lesser opposition from Major League Soccer, Capoue was dominant in defensive midfield. Mopping up loose balls and covering for his defenders, the teams rarely got a look-in when he was on the pitch.
Tom Carroll: D
After a positive start versus Seattle Sounders, Carroll's performances diminished somewhat over the course of Spurs' tour across the pond. His passing was still sound, his movement beneficial to the team moving forward. But compared to others like Capoue and Ryan Mason, he cut a less authoritative figure.
Selected for the Spurs XI that faced Dagenham & Redbridge rather than the senior side who faced Celtic in Finland, Carroll's first-team prospects are looking a little less promising now.
Mousa Dembele: C
Dembele did not quite reach the peaks of his first season with Tottenham last time around, especially into the new year. Not as involved in Belgium's World Cup campaign as he would have liked, his resulting later return might count against him.
Others have impressed during Dembele's absence from the first weeks of pre-season. The dynamic midfielder has the talent to convince Pochettino he can be an integral part of his team but has to go about proving it now.
Lewis Holtby: B+
As much as anyone at Tottenham, Holtby is doing his utmost to take advantage of the fresh start offered by Pochettino's appointment. In this regard, the absence of several team-mates recovering from their World Cup exertions has given him a welcome chance to impress.
Scoring goals and putting in lively showings on both sides of the ball, the hard-working German's efforts appear they might suit the demanding attacking style of his new manager. A question mark remains as to whether Pochettino will ultimately opt for others he perceives as being more technically adept.
Ryan Mason: B+
This writer was as guilty as anyone in overlooking Mason as a possible contributor for Tottenham under Pochettino. Given the chance to play this pre-season, he has been one of the club's best performers—assertive, hungry and demonstrating a great range of passing.
The 23-year-old has been mostly recognised as an attacking midfielder up until now in his various loan spells (although not totally limited by that label). With no top-flight experience, it would be a big call from his manager to throw him into the mix, but not a decision without merit after this summer.
Paulinho had an eventful World Cup to say the least. Part of Brazil's tumultuous campaign on home soil, his performances largely flattered to deceive (though he was not alone there).
The midfielder has not become a bad player overnight by any means. There were enough glimpses of his box-to-box quality last season to show why Spurs bought him. Just how his particular brand of talent fits into Pochettino's quick, urgent style remains to be seen.
A virus kept Sandro out of contention for Tottenham in North America, a stroke of misfortune that may prove costly given Capoue's standout showings in defensive midfield.
The Brazilian was back in action against Celtic and still has time to prove himself to his new manager. After almost four years at Tottenham he will be desperate to finally have a season uninterrupted by injury and a boss who trusts in him to look after things in midfield like he knows how.
Nacer Chadli: D
Like Dembele, Chadli's time at the World Cup may have inadvertently hurt his first-team chances at Tottenham. Others have played well in attacking midfield while he has been absent. Out of sight though not out of mind, the Daily Star's Alex Crook was among those also linking the Belgian with being included in a Spurs offer for Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin.
Chadli's powerful running style, strength and good finishing did come to the fore last season, just not as often as anyone would have liked. He will need to summon it from the off this year if he is to become more than just a bit-part concern at Spurs.
Christian Eriksen: A+
Voted player of the year by Tottenham supporters last season, Eriksen overcame injury and some early settling-in issues to become the club's most consistent outfield performer.
He has looked increasingly lively in pre-season, and as his free-kick against Celtic showed he is quickly finding his shooting boots again too. There is no reason why he should not pick up where he left off.
Aaron Lennon: B-
Lennon's 2013-14 was the worst campaign of his Tottenham career. For the first time his trademark pace looked to be diminishing. Arguably more worryingly, his imagination in attempting to beat defenders did too.
It has been encouraging, then, to see him playing with a renewed sense of enthusiasm in pre-season. Deployed on the left against Toronto, they failed to deal with him coming inside to link up with Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado. His excellent goal against Chicago Fire further suggested there is life in the winger yet.
Erik Lamela: A-
Three goals in pre-season and a clutch of good performances have firmly reawakened hopes Lamela could yet become a big player for Tottenham. His opponents thus far have struggled to deal with his movement and lambent dribbling style, the Argentinian capitalising on this with some deadly work in the penalty area.
Lamela still needs to prove he can handle the more physical demands of the Premier League. His aggressiveness in leading the charge in Pochettino's pressing game suggests he may be better prepared than a year ago.
Andros Townsend: B
We saw the good and bad of Townsend last season. Both have been seen again in pre-season, especially against Toronto, where he was wasteful for large periods but then proceeded to curl in a stunning winner.
The raw material of a thrilling player is there with Townsend, and Pochettino might well fancy attempting to try mold him into a genuine asset. His assist for Harry Kane against Celtic highlighted his threat as a natural winger, a option that should not be discounted even as Spurs move to a more centrally focused game.
Emmanuel Adebayor: B-
Adebayor's tussle with malaria unfortunately undermined another pre-season for the striker. Healthy again now, he is enough of a well-known presence that Pochettino will not have needed to see too much of him to know what he is getting.
At 30, Adebayor is approaching the time he will not be able to coast by so much on his natural talent (an unfortunate tendency that, as Spurs fans well know, pops up from time to time). Reinstated to the team midway through last season, his subsequent 14 goals proved what he is still capable of doing. His manager will want to see a commitment to delivering this on a consistent basis if he is to entrust his attack with him.
Harry Kane: A
After forcing his way into the team last season, Kane does not appear to be resting on his laurels. An excellent assist for Holtby against Seattle demonstrated his quality outside of the box. A goal each against Chicago and Celtic have once again underlined his prowess in it.
The more experienced Adebayor and Soldado might still have the advantage over their younger team-mate for now. But Kane is catching fast and might not be far off doing enough to get his chance to lead Pochettino's front line on a weekly basis.
Soldado's tough first season in England has been much discussed. Whether he is the right man to be the focal point of the Tottenham attack moving forward is not yet clear.
Positively, he has been linking up well with his supporting midfielders in pre-season, grabbing a couple of goals in the process. The former was evident in the latter part of last season, the latter not so much. He will need to find his scoring touch again if he is to be a regular this season.