So the Gareth Bale saga that became that annoying buzzing sound in the background of your entire summer is finally over. Tottenham can see the move as a huge success for them having earned a debatably high £85.3 million for a player they paid only £7 million for back in 2007.
Bale’s ability to single-handedly dominate and win games earned Spurs the unpleasant label of a one-man team and will likely be missed as the main force of the side.
However, chairman Daniel Levy and manager André Villas-Boas prepared for this inevitable event amazingly with the summer acquisitions that they brought in to replace Bale. Tottenham’s buying policy has been like a toddler in a playground who hadn’t been taught sharing yet. They rushed from the climbing frame to the swing set grasping at whatever they fancied, thinking that screaming “mine” while they did it was justification enough. Fans of other clubs were left hoping that the top-players they coveted would remain off Spur’s radar and then cursed when they inevitably didn’t.
Spurs broke their transfer record three times this summer with the purchases of Paulinho from Corinthians, Roberto Soldado from Valencia and Erik Lamela from Roma. Added to these were the highly sought after Christian Eriksen (Ajax) as well as Etienne Capoue (Toulouse), Vlad Chiriches (Steau Bucharest) and Nacer Chadli (FC Twente).
The new squad sheet looks fantastic but the question of how quickly they will gel with each other has yet to be answered. While two wins and a loss to Arsenal so far this Premier League season is no sign of real worry yet, the fact that the side has scored no goals from open play is a real concern. Only two second-half Soldado penalties have shown what this potent attacking side is capable of.
Spurs’ eight goals over two legs against Georgian side Dinamo Tbilisi is an encouraging sign of that potential. Along with new signings Soldado and Paulinho, Jermain Defoe, Andros Townsend, Lewis Holtby and Danny Rose (back from his loan at Sunderland last season) have shown the goal-scoring quality that has remained at the club.
Looking at the goal attempts per game, Tottenham have actually averaged slightly more in the Premier League (17.6) than in their Europa League qualifiers (16). As the result of the match against Arsenal will show, the most important stat is what they can actually put in the goal.
The new arrivals scored a collective total of 94 goals and 23 assists for their respective clubs last season (Soldado tops scoring with 30, while Eriksen made the most assists with six). Along with the players from last year, this should make Tottenham a frankly terrifying attacking force if Villas-Boas can maintain the right level of team chemistry and well-planned squad rotation.
Before the huge loss of Bale, Spurs had already offloaded six regular and fringe first-team players from his side. William Gallas was among a large group of players released by the club. Steven Caulker was sold to Cardiff City, followed by Clint Dempsey to the Seattle Sounders, Tom Huddlestone to Hull City and Scott Parker to Fulham. Benôit Assou-Ekotto was also loaned to Queen’s Park Rangers.
Last season, Clint Dempsey made 43 appearances (starting and coming on as a sub) in all competitions, Scott Parker played in 29, Tom Huddlestone and Steven Caulker both made 28, Gallas managed 24 and Assou-Ekotto made 22 appearances. So with their absence this season, some familiarity has been lost for those that remained which can only come from time spent with the training and playing with the new arrivals.
The defense seems like it has retained most of its old structure with Hugo Lloris between the sticks, Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson in the center, Kyle Walker on the right and Rose on the left. The midfield and forward-line is what’s going to take the most tactical tweaking and adjustment to find the best starting 11.
Villas-Boas has come through what could have been a disastrous summer with an excellent group of acquisitions and to add to what was still a strong core-side without the presence of Bale. Sunday’s North-London derby has shown that it’s not all just going to fall into place easily. What Villas-Boas needs to do now is get the team playing as a unit in a system that compliments the best talents of all new and old. Finding this goldilocks state should be given as much effort as acquiring the new players did during the transfer window.
If found soon, there’s not much in the way of Spurs breaking into the top four, dare I say possibly even mounting a title challenge. If it takes too long though, they can expect another season on the cusp of their main objective.