Why Tottenham Hotspur Should Believe They Can Reach Champions League This Season

Sam Rooke@@SamRooke89Featured ColumnistAugust 27, 2014

Harry Kane is just one of the youngsters that could make the difference for Spurs
Harry Kane is just one of the youngsters that could make the difference for SpursJamie McDonald/Getty Images

The task of finishing in the Premier League's top-four places has never seemed more out of reach.

Manchester City and Chelsea are both untouchably, fabulously wealthy. Arsenal and Liverpool have the requisite pedigree and are similarly munificent. Then there is Manchester United who are at a low ebb to be sure but undoubtedly the largest club in the land and one of the most powerful in world football.

Even Everton have found new flair in the form of Roberto Martinez, one of Europe's up-and-coming young managers. The Spaniard seems to have rubbed off on his chairman who, abandoning a notoriously conservative bent, has spent big on experience and quality this summer. 

What chance then do Spurs have of breaking into the Champions League cabal? Yet to make a major transfer, they have a young squad full of talented, yet unproven players and a manager with a burgeoning yet undeveloped career. They  seem to be in a hopeless situation. 

Having tasted the glory of Champions League football in 2011, Spurs have longed to return. After being denied by Chelsea's stunning European Cup victory in 2012, one could be forgiven for thinking that they would never again taste Europe's top table. 

And yet, Tottenham do have a realistic chance of returning to Elysium. 

Mauricio Pochettino may be a young and relatively unproven manager but his significant reputation in England is no accident. Having been schooled by Marcelo Bielsa, the renowned Argentine manager and inspiration of Pep Guardiola, Pochettino has a rock-solid philosophy that was proven successful on the field in his time at Southampton

That philosophy is based on flexibility. Where Pochettino's predecessor at Spurs, Andre Villas-Boas, was criticised for rigidly sticking to his system regardless of the suitability of the personnel or game situation, Pochettino is observant and adaptive

Tottenham's victory on opening day against West Ham saw that flexibility put into practice. Rather than sacrifice a midfielder when Kyle Naughton was sent off, he shifted Eric Dier to right-back and withdrew Etienne Capoue to a defensive role. Dier scored the winner but Spurs were rarely troubled by West Ham's additional man. Pochettino's capacity to adapt could prove crucial. 

Equally important to Spurs' top-four aspirations are the playing staff where Spurs are blessed with both talent and depth. 

Erik Lamela seems to have found his footing in England at last. After suffering injury and indifferent form in his debut season, the Argentine has returned at full strength for his sophomore year. With four assists in his last two games, Lamela is approaching his best form. 

Groomed to replace Francesco Totti at Roma and compared to Lionel Messi at River Plate, Lamela possesses superb dribbling speed and an equally rapid mind. His continued resurgence is key to Spurs' hopes of returning to Europe's top table.

A genuinely brilliant player during his time in Serie A, Lamela is a whirlwind of potential. 

Lamela's partner in attack is Christian Eriksen. Versatile and breathlessly skillful, the Dane makes Lamela a better player and the pair have already shown their burgeoning partnership. 

Last season Spurs sacked two managers, suffered through injuries to key players and committed a Premier League-high 18 errors leading to goals. Despite all that, they finished just three points short of their record haul and 10 points behind Champions League qualification.

The margins are not so broad.

Now Spurs' back line has been reinforced. The signing of left-back Ben Davies and the development of Danny Rose under Pochettino have secured Spurs' left flank. This also serves to keep Jan Vertonghen away from the left-back role. The Belgian is Spurs' finest central defender and, while he is an effective full-back when called upon, he is happier and more useful in his preferred role.  

A happy Vertonghen, shielded by Davies or Rose is far less likely to commit defensive errors. Alongside him, the (yet to be completed) signing of Federico Fazio provides necessary competition to Younes Kaboul. Kyle Walker is a brilliant modern right-back and the emergence of Eric Dier means Tottenham will rarely need to rely on Kyle Naughton. Spurs' defence has been improved by both signings and coaching. 

If Spurs' attack is improved with the growing importance of Lamela and Eriksen and their defence has been strengthened by the competitiveness of Rose-Davies & Walker-Dier, as well as the signing of Fazio, it is their midfield that remains to be addressed. 

The subject of great transfer speculation this summer, Spurs' stable of midfielders compete with all but Chelsea and Manchester City. Etienne Capoue and Nabil Bentaleb appear to be the favoured pairing but the return of Moussa Dembele and Paulinho (following extended World Cup recovery programs) will provide competition and able replacements should injury strike. That excludes Brazil international Sandro and German Under-21 captain Lewis Holtby. 

Spurs are not a team capable of challenging for the league title. They lack a reliable goalscorer and a midfielder that can move effectively between the lines. Bentaleb looks an excellent prospect but remains too young to be used in this role.

Crucially, the title is not Spurs' goal. For them, Champions League qualification would be greeted as some other clubs greet a championship and they are fully equipped to achieve that goal. 

Man United have stumbled out of the blocks. They will surely improve but they face a catch-up already. Arsenal are a team replete with enviable depth in some areas but their midfield and defence are relatively threadbare. Liverpool must recover from the loss of one of their greatest-ever players and Everton likely lack the depth to compete in England and Europe simultaneously. 

Spurs are seasoned in juggling European and domestic football. They possess brilliant players like Lamela, Eriksen, Vertonghen and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as well as a deep and broad supporting cast. 

They are young, hungry and led by a fiercely passionate and skilled manager. 

It will not be easy and is far from assured but Spurs have made the perfect start. Six points from the opening two games is the perfect foundation upon which to build. 

Spurs fans have every reason to believe that this season could, finally, be their year. 


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