3 Tottenham Players to Watch During Pre-Season

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJuly 14, 2015

Jan Vertonghen and Andros Townsend's pre-season performances will be well worth keeping an eye on this summer.
Jan Vertonghen and Andros Townsend's pre-season performances will be well worth keeping an eye on this summer.Clive Rose/Getty Images

As is the same at every club, pre-season means different things for the players of Tottenham Hotspur.

The staggered summer return dates, the "off-season programme and specific targets to enable them all to start the new season in the best physical condition"—the latter relayed by assistant head coach Jesus Perez to Tottenham's official website. Then, of course, each is looking to stake his own claim for playing time in the year ahead.

The following three players to watch during pre-season—in the games Spurs do not play behind closed doors anyway—are approaching the challenge to impress head coach Mauricio Pochettino from three differing perspectives. Unique in several respects, but able to be related to their team-mates in others.

Dele Alli has unsurprisingly been a prominent presence in the north London club's social media documentation of pre-season (including some lighthearted moments, as seen above). Signed in January from Milton Keynes Dons but only properly arriving this summer, the 19-year-old has been one of the first new recruits Spurs have been able to show off.

"It’s been great to join the squad and work with such talented players," a pleased Alli told the club site of his first experiences around the first team. "As members of the team, you spend so much time together throughout the season so you’re naturally going to get together quickly and start to gel."

Highly rated during his time with MK Dons, much of is expected of Dele Alli in the long-term at Tottenham.
Highly rated during his time with MK Dons, much of is expected of Dele Alli in the long-term at Tottenham.Pete Norton/Getty Images

Having spent time further familiarising himself with his new working environment via early summer individual sessions, the departure of three potential central-midfield rivals will have only helped his own chances of a successful assimilation.

Even accounting for the possibility of new arrivals in the position, the sales of Etienne Capoue, Lewis Holtby and Paulinho have shown head coach Mauricio Pochettino has faith in the club's young midfielders. Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason will naturally be at the forefront of this trust after a good 2014-15, but Alli is also being given an opportunity to prove his worth from the off.

Though Paulinho ended up playing a more restrained role during the majority of his Spurs stay (especially last season), his exit does leave a void for a midfielder capable of getting up the pitch and in the box (i.e. what was initially expected of him). The precocious, skillful Alli may find here is his best place to make an immediate impression.

Regardless of how quick he can convince Pochettino he is ready to feature competitively, it will nonetheless be fascinating to see how the highly rated 2014-15 Football League Young Player of the Year fares in the upcoming friendlies.

Also an England youth international, much is hoped of Alli.
Also an England youth international, much is hoped of Alli.Clint Hughes/Getty Images

Alli is not the only Tottenham teenager looking to catch the coaching staff's eye. From fellow central midfielder Harry Winks to attacker Nathan Oduwa—prominently involved in the training-ground win over Southend United—budding academy talents are looking to follow in the footsteps of those promoted to the senior squad like Bentaleb and Mason.

The second of our featured three, Andros Townsend is well familiar with that journey from youth team to first team.

In 2014-15, he registered 34 appearances, five goals and six assists, as tallied by ESPN FC. The campaign left room for improvement, but they were respectable club numbers for a 23-year-old entering only his second season as a regular contributor for his employers.

Except, Townsend is also now an England international. One who knows retaining his place in Roy Hodgson's national-team setup will require, or at least be boosted by, regular first-team football.

"For me, it’s been up and down over the last season," he reflected speaking to Spurs' official website. "On one hand, I scored six goals, scored in the Premier League against Chelsea and played in the Capital One Cup Final, but there have also been the lows of having a few niggling injuries and not playing as much as I would have liked."

Townsend in full-flight is a heck of a weapon for Tottenham. Getting him into that mode on a regular basis is taking some work.
Townsend in full-flight is a heck of a weapon for Tottenham. Getting him into that mode on a regular basis is taking some work.Marko Drobnjakovic/Associated Press

The Mirror's John Cross reports interest from Aston Villa and Sunderland in Townsend. Given he was not a first-choice player last season, it may be the case Pochettino sanctions a transfer if the player requests one.

Or, Pochettino may (in this writer's opinion, rightly) prefer to keep a player whose speed, daring and capacity for the spectacular are not attributes easily found. Publicly, Townsend himself has suggested he is prepared to stick around and work on his game. "In 2015-16 it’s all about consistency and I’ll be trying my hardest in pre-season to get myself as fit as possible so I can sustain a place in the team and make a real impression."

With fellow attacker and right-midfield rival Erik Lamela a late returner following his involvement in Argentina's Copa America run, Townsend should have the initiative in the coming weeks. It is up to him to really begin proving his worth to Tottenham.

The third player on this watchlist is defender Jan Vertonghen.

By the end of last season the Belgian was—fitness permitting—Pochetton's first-choice centre-back. The consistency provided by his pairing with Federico Fazio in the season's middle third contributed to Spurs' strongest run. Vertonghen's subsequent partnership with Eric Dier was not so sure a proposition, but provided experience that should stand the younger defender in good stead moving forward.

After a few months in and out of the team early in 2014-15, Vertonghen ended up becoming a regular in Pochettino's defence.
After a few months in and out of the team early in 2014-15, Vertonghen ended up becoming a regular in Pochettino's defence.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Spurs' overall leakiness was still concerning enough two new additions have been made at centre-back (though as yet, no departures). Austrian Kevin Wimmer has arrived from Cologne, while Vertonghen's fellow Belgium international and former Ajax team-mate Toby Alderweireld has been signed from Atletico Madrid after an impressive year with Southampton.

Likely to replace the out-of-favour Younes Kaboul as Spurs' longest serving centre-back soon enough, Vertonghen's place is not necessarily guaranteed. Still, he has as strong a chance of playing regularly as any of his fellow defenders.

Despite sharing a similar eye for a pass and a comfort in possession, the 28-year-old has not become the Ledley King-esque leader that was envisioned upon his signing from Ajax in 2012 (essentially replacing the retired skipper). He is not so ready an organiser, nor a symbolic figure as King was. Probably unfair comparisons aside, the left-sided Vertonghen does offer a welcome counterpoint to the more physical/cumbersome style of several of his colleagues.

The more composed Alderweireld is the most obvious and perhaps best fit alongside him. Pre-season matches will also give us our first inkling of how Wimmer fares here. Dier and Fazio will be keen to show they can make their own partnerships with Vertonghen more stable and functional too.

Each are mostly responsible for how they do. But demonstrating an understanding with Vertonghen, translating it into the solidity and balance Spurs too often lacked last season, should go a long way to deciding who starts away at Manchester United on August 8.

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