Tottenham Hotspur season preview

Posted by John Crace and Dan Fitch

What's changed since last season?
John Crace: With the Gareth Bale saga likely to rumble on till transfer deadline day, there's still no certainty the Welshman will remain a Spurs player come September. Two weeks ago it was looking odds on Bale would leave, but now it appears less so. Daniel Levy has outnegotiated Real Madrid at every turn and there are genuine doubts as to whether the Spanish club actually has the cash to match an asking price of £100 million.

Yet even were Bale to leave, Spurs are still in much better shape than they have been at the start of the previous few seasons. It's been obvious to everyone but the Spurs' board that the club has been in urgent need of another top-class striker for some years. This summer, they have finally bought one: Roberto Soldado from Valencia. Better still, they have bought him well before the transfer deadline, giving him time to settle in to the club.

The club has made two other eye-catching signings. Paulinho from Corinthians and Nacer Chadli from Twente. Paulinho is a strong Brazilian attacking midfielder, who should fit in nicely alongside Sandro and Moussa Dembele, while Chadli offers extra options on the wings. With Bale now playing increasingly through the middle and Aaron Lennon usually out through injury for at least 12 games per season, Chadli could be an unexpectedly important acquisition.

Key to this campaign
JC: The same as last season -- and every season before that: Keeping the squad fresh and injury-free. Andre Villas-Boas has a much more open approach to squad rotation than previous manager Harry Redknapp, who tended to pick the same side week after week, thereby ensuring that most of his key players were knackered by March. There also appears to be fewer divisions within the squad under AVB, as the players do not feel the manager has his own personal favourites.

But even with all this going for the club, Spurs still lost key players to injury last season. Younes Kaboul in the first game of the season and Sandro just after Christmas. Michael Dawson and Steven Caulker never matched up to Kaboul, and Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore were no substitutes for Sandro. These two long-term injuries cost Spurs a Champions League slot every bit as much as the lack of a class striker.

Which brings us to Soldado again. Having finally bought a proven world-class striker, Spurs must make sure they play a system that uses him properly. Especially if Bale stays. It's all very well giving Bale a licence to roam through the centre, but when he did so last season, Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor frequently looked like they had no idea what they were supposed to be doing. Repeating the same mistake with Soldado would be both stupid and expensive.

Finally, it would really help this season if referees were to realise they are allowed to award a penalty if Bale -- or any other Spurs player -- is tripped up in the area. Last season, Spurs were awarded precisely no penalties in the Premier League.

Predicted finish/realistic goal
JC: Any long-term Spurs fan should know better than to predict anything but total disaster. And yet ... Spurs now have their strongest and most stable-looking squad for many seasons. There is strength in depth and the bit-part players are being gradually sidelined. Just as importantly, the other big clubs don't look so settled. It's hard to see David Moyes terrifying Manchester United into overperforming in the same way as Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger is under pressure to win a trophy with a team that has yet to be strengthened and Jose Mourinho has yet to prove he can return as an even more Special One.

All of which makes a top-three finish an utterly realistic goal for Spurs this season. Though most fans would settle for fourth. However, it would also be good to see the club take its cup runs more seriously: Last year, both the Carling Cup and the FA Cup were surrendered without too much of a fight. Third place and the FA Cup. That would be nice. And the Europa League would be the icing on the cake. Dream on ...

Make-or-break season for ...
Dan Fitch: Levy has long been known as a master negotiator, but this summer he appears to be playing a blinder, despite the Bale saga hanging over the club like an ever-darkening cloud. Recruiting Franco Baldini seems to have had a positive effect on the club's transfer policy, with Spurs managing to get new players in early.

There are two options here. Levy could be spending the Bale money before he is sold, to avoid being held ransom by clubs knowing that Tottenham are sitting on a fortune. Or, Levy is taking a gamble by assembling a squad that, along with Bale, cannot fail to qualify for the Champions League and could even mount a title challenge.

By the end of September we will know which path Levy has chosen. With the multimillion-pound new stadium being built, the stakes could scarcely be higher.

One to watch
DF: Paulinho scored a headed goal in the friendly against Espanyol on Saturday, which was incorrectly adjudged to be offside. It is unlikely that the midfielder will take long to make it onto the score sheet proper. He clearly has a great knack for timing his runs into the box and is a powerful presence in the air.

If Paulinho is teamed with Sandro and Dembele in a three-man midfield, then it might prove to be the Brazilian who is pushed farther forward. Despite having started his career as a striker, Dembele is hardly deadly around the box. Paulinho seems to be the man who can finally provide Spurs with 10-plus goals a season from central midfield.

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