LONDON (Reuters) - Tottenham Hotspur ended last season behind champions Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool by 27 and 26 points respectively and there is little to suggest the London club can make serious inroads into that deficit as the new campaign kicks off.
Finishing fourth and reaching their first Champions League final with no spending in successive transfer windows and playing ‘home’ matches at Wembley until April because of delays to their new ground was a noble over-achievement for Spurs.
They will kick off next weekend at their magnificent new 62,000-seat stadium, with 65 million pounds ($78.85 million) signing France midfielder Tanguy Ndombele in their ranks and manager Mauricio Pochettino still running the project.
Yet a nagging sense of deja vu pervades.
Pochettino has worked wonders to secure top-four finishes in four straight seasons, raising his stock sky high in the process, but the Argentine is yet to claim any silverware.
Towards the end of last season he cast doubt on his future, saying it would be “naive” to suggest Tottenham could keep punching above their weight and said a “new plan” needed to be implemented to compete with City and Liverpool.
Last week he put the cat amongst the pigeons when he said he had no input into the club’s transfer policy and that his job title should be changed from manager to coach.
As of Sunday’s final warm-up match against Inter Milan, Ndombele was still Tottenham’s only major signing although promising winger Jack Clarke arrived from Leeds United for 8.5 million pounds before going back to the Yorkshire club on loan.
As exciting as the arrival of Ndombele from Olympique Lyonnais is for Spurs, the squad still has less depth than their rivals and the news that England midfielder Dele Alli will miss the start of the campaign with a hamstring injury was unwelcome.
On the plus side, Tottenham’s starting eleven against Aston Villa on Saturday will click seamlessly back into gear as, apart from Ndombele, they know each other’s games inside out.
Their key men are also likely to be fresher too, notably talismanic striker Harry Kane who looks raring to go having begun last season drained by the World Cup.
Kane scored from inside his own half in a friendly win against Juventus and sounded a rallying cry as the season approached — suggesting Tottenham can push on.
“We’re in a good place,” the England captain said. “As a team, we’ve learnt a lot over the last few years. A lot of us have been playing with each other now for a long time.
“We’ve got to believe and use it as motivation that people don’t believe in us. That’s what I’ve done on a personal note my whole career. You have to use that to your advantage.”
The final week of the transfer window could go some way to answering some of the doubts about Tottenham’s ambitions.
A couple of more signings and keeping hold of Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen could give Spurs fresh impetus to do more than just consolidate their place in the top four.
Failure to do so would not be the end of the world as Pochettino’s squad has an abundance of quality and experience and the Argentine’s methods have proved effective at eking every last drop from his fringe players.
But with Manchester United and Arsenal having strengthened over the close season it would leave Tottenham with little room for error and Pochettino maybe questioning whether his ambition can be ever fulfilled in north London.
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Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge