Why have Tottenham been written off for a top four place?

2011/12 – the last time Tottenham reached the promised land of the Champions League, only for their place to be cruelly snatched away by Chelsea’s dramatic victory over Bayern Munich in the final. Since that season Spurs have generally struggled to cement a position in the Premier League’s top four and critics have written off their chances this time around, a resolve which will have been strengthened by Spurs’ disappointing performance in their win at West Ham on the opening day of the new season. On this basis and that of last season it is hard to disagree. Tottenham in 2013/14, under Andre Villas-Boas and then Tim Sherwood, represented a young, bright and vibrant future but with worrying short-term results. Bringing in seven new faces last summer to make up for the loss of star man Gareth Bale was the first mistake, made worse by the incapability of the managers to get the best out of the new boys. Spurs were a confused side for most of the last campaign, generally unorganised and uncomfortable under the tactics employed by both Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood and results such as the 5-0 hammering by Liverpool which cost the former his job, typified the disjointed nature of the North London side last season.

Chairman Daniel Levy went for a sensible option by naming former Southmapton boss Mauricio Pocchetino as Sherwood’s successor, in the hope that the Argentine brings his brand of football – pressing, attacking play that worked wonders at Southampton last season – to White Hart Lane. But to demand a return to the Champions League from Pocchetino this season would represent a jumping of the gun. Tottenham represents a fundamental step up for the new manager, not just in personnel but in expectations, and he will no doubt understand the pressure on him to take Spurs back to the top four. Undoubtedly, he has the players to achieve this goal, particularly the likes of Christian Eriksen, Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela but this season should be focused on maximising these players’ abilities, considering that they generally failed to impress last season. Only then, with these players singing from the same hymn sheet, will Champions League football become a real possibility once again. Levy is known for his ruthless approach when it comes to transfers and managers but he cannot keep sacking managers who fail to reach his high standards after only a few games, as is the nature of football these days. He should accept that under Pocchetino this season, Spurs will undergo a period of transition, attempting to become accustomed to the manager’s methods and that a finish in the top four is an unrealistic goal.

This is in light of the squad strengthening by other Premier League sides in the race for the top four, which minimises Tottenham’s chances further. Arsenal, perennial holders of fourth place, have added Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and Callum Chambers to their ranks, giving their side exceptional attacking quality in addition to defensive solidity. Meanwhile, last year’s surprise package Liverpool have signed eight new faces to give their squad more depth as they attempt to consolidate their return to the top four. Changes at Manchester United  (namely the appointment of Louis van Gaal as manager) mean that they also could be fighting for a place. This is not to say that Spurs have not added to their side also – they’ve brought in Ben Davies and Michel Vorm from Swansea, Eric Dier (who scored the match-winner at West Ham) from Sporting Lisbon and sprinting machine DeAndre Yedlin from Seattle Sounders. Not much more strengthening needs to be done as Pocchetino attempts to answer the question that Villas-Boas and Sherwood ultimately could not – what is Tottenham’s best 11?

While on paper their squad is an exciting group of players, on the pitch Tottenham do not seem ready to take the next step to the top four. The cliche ‘team of individuals’ could be used to best describe the current state of the squad and until a solid team spirit is established, a top four finish will not happen. Serious question marks remain within the team but in Pocchetino’s first season at the club, the emphasis should not be on gaining a Champions League place but on steadying the ship, developing a fluid style of play and constructing a side capable of achieving what they haven’t done since their moment of glory was harshly stolen from them in May 2012.

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