In chase of the dream
Sir Alex Ferguson, as he tends to most summers, has been talking up the merits of his rivals as much as his own side's.
The Manchester United boss has predicted a six-way battle for the title this season, believing Tottenham Hotspur could prosper without the distraction of Champions League football. But few Spurs fans must think their club has a chance of bridging the 18-point gap to Manchester United from last term.
Although boss Harry Redknapp has already stated he has no interest in the rigorous demands of the Europa League and the 17 games it takes to win the competition, can he really send out a reserve side throughout the whole competition?
It is the scheduling rather than the extra games which cause concern, with the series of Thursday fixtures, which cause weekend games to be pushed back to Sunday, throwing the natural order of planning and preparation off its natural course.
All this with Redknapp signing just one player of true note over the summer; goalkeeper Brad Friedel, aged 40, arriving on a free transfer after his contract at Aston Villa expired.
That Redknapp has been unable to strengthen further has largely been down to an inability to get unwanted players off the wage bill. Heurelho Gomes, Sebastien Bassong, David Bentley, Wilson Palacios, Niko Kranjcar, Jermaine Jenas, Peter Crouch, Robbie Keane, Giovani, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Jermain Defoe have all been linked with transfers.
But to date only Jamie O'Hara, bringing in around £5 million, has been sold though there has been interest in a number of the club's fringe players. The lack of movement means much of Tottenham's business may be done much closer to the deadline, a position which Redknapp has become accustomed to.
Late deals, like Rafael van der Vaart's arrival, on deadline day may again have to be done, but holding on to Luka Modric will be even more important.
Modric, already the subject of two rejected bids from Chelsea, represents where Tottenham now position themselves; are they still a club which sells their best players to the Premier League's traditional trophy hoarders?
In the past Spurs have been bullish about keeping hold of their best players: think Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick - and both eventually joined Manchester United despite Daniel Levy's insistence neither was for sale. If Spurs again part with what essentially amounts to a marquee player, their aspirations to be one of the Premier League's serious challengers will be dead in the water.
While holding on to a key creative player in Modric is crucial, Spurs also need to generate the transfer funds to freshen up the strike force. While Roman Pavlyuchenko weighed in with nine league goals, Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch contributed just four each and Robbie Keane failed to get on the scoresheet in the first half of the campaign.
West Ham's failure to stay in the Premier League meant the collapse of the pre-agreed transfer of Keane, and while the Irishman himself admits he will leave this month a delayed departure holds up other deals.
Each and every striker has been linked with a move away: Keane to QPR, West Brom and Blackburn; Crouch to Sunderland, Everton, QPR and Stoke; Pavlyuchenko with Newcastle and a move back to Russia; Defoe also with Newcastle and a highly unlikely move to rivals Arsenal.
Spurs have been linked with FC Twente striker Bryan Ruiz, a player who has scored 33 goals in 61 appearances for the Eredivisie side, who may arrive once Keane leaves. But players from the Dutch league do not have a convincing record of transforming their goalscoring record into the English top-flight: think Afonso Alves, Mateja Kezman.
Spurs' current strike force is capable of rediscovering form, but are unlikely to get away with the same over-reliance on Van der Vaart. With 13 Premier League goals, the Dutch midfielder scored almost a quarter of the club's tally, but doubts remain over his fitness and ability to play a full 90 minutes.
Whether Spurs answer their goalscoring conundrum could be the deciding factor in how their season pans out.
At the back, the arrival of Friedel should provide a safer pair of hands than Gomes, who may also head back to PSV Eindhoven before the end of the month. Ledley King's ongoing injury problems mean he will seldom be available, but in William Gallas and Michael Dawson they have a centre-back pairing which should be the envy of Arsenal. The emergence of England defender Kyle Walker will be one to watch, though they lack quality in depth.
In midfield, Gareth Bale must rediscover his form of 2010 if he is not to be considered a one-year wonder. Though he was voted the PFA Player of the Year, that Scott Parker won the Football Writers' award, which is voted for later in the season, says much about his disappointing 2011 to date.
Tottenham face an extremely difficult start to the season, which has been compounded by injury to Sandro probably for the first two months of the season. The former Internacional midfielder had become a lynchpin of the midfield after a slow start to his Tottenham career; that he is now unavailable is a considerable blow. Lassana Diarra's expected arrival will offset Sandro's loss to a large extent.
Over the first seven games of the season, Spurs must play both Manchester clubs - travelling to Old Trafford on the second weekend, entertain Liverpool and host Arsenal in the first North London derby of the season. It's a fixture list which could back Redknapp's plan to play fringe players in the Europa League, starting with the play-off fixture against Hearts this month and then perhaps in the group stage.
It is a big season for Spurs and for Redknapp. With Liverpool appearing ready for resurgence under Kenny Dalglish, Spurs could be pushed out of the top five for the first time in three years. And in a year when Redknapp remains the choice of many to replace Fabio Capello as England boss he cannot afford a campaign where his stock is devalued.
It is difficult to see Spurs being able to challenge the top four again. While bridging a six-point gap to the Gunners may not seem impossible, there's every chance Liverpool could eclipse them both.
Spurs' best chance of success will come in the Cups, rather at home than in Europe.
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