The Reasons Why Tottenham Are Champions League Material

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2013

The Reasons Why Tottenham Are Champions League Material

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    Tottenham Hotspur's 3-0 loss to West Ham United this past weekend was not the best advert for a team attempting to prove themselves as Champions League material.

    Disappointing as the defeat was, its occurrence so early in the season gives Tottenham time to try and rectify the things that went wrong.

    As manager Andre Villas-Boas told Sky Sports post-match: "It's a wake up call that we have to react to and I trust the team to do that."

    Spurs' efforts to "stay connected to the top" will be enhanced by a number of factors over the coming months.

    If the following Champions League credentials appear familiar in their application to the North London club, you would be right.

    In one form or another they have been cited at numerous points over the last couple of years (undoubtedly a few times by this writer).

    Albeit naturally different, they remain relevant as to why Spurs are still a strong candidate for a return to Europe's premier club competition.




Key Individual Components

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    This past summer's departure of Gareth Bale robbed Tottenham of a remarkable talent—one who last season repeatedly galvanized his team with a clutch of match-winning performances.

    Only time will tell how successful those who were brought in using the funds from his sale to Real Madrid will do.

    While Spurs supporters wait to see how fruitful new arrivals like Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado are in replacing the contributions of Bale, there are other key individuals whose importance is already apparent.

    The versatile and cultured Jan Vertonghen continues to grow in prominence as Spurs' marquee defender. Behind him in goal is Hugo Lloris (who was voted as part of the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in his first season), another international performer who even more so than Vertonghen has backed up eye-catching displays with a comforting reliability.

    In midfield, Mousa Dembele has been joined by new signing Paulinho in demonstrating a class that—though not always obvious—is fundamental to Spurs' balance between defense and attack.

    The way they were ultimately outfought by their West Ham counterparts this past weekend showed there is room for maneuverability in how Spurs' midfield is set up. Individually though, both Dembele and Paulinho possess a level of quality that makes them both well capable of leading their team up the league table.

    Arguments can certainly be made for the importance of others players to the Spurs cause. Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine the club making the Champions League this season without at least the majority of this quartet continuing to shine.

Strength in Depth

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    As acknowledged on the previous page, it will be a while before Tottenham's new signings can properly be judged (though Paulinho has looked encouragingly suited to Premier League football almost from the off).

    Invariably, the legitimacy of this logic will be tested over time. Numbers in a squad does not necessarily mean strength in depth.

    In the best case scenario though, Villas-Boas' 25-man squad has sufficient quality to sustain a hunt for a top four place.

    In midfield in particular there is an abundance of options.

    The more defensively inclined (Etienne Capoue and Sandro) and those more liable to be found influencing things going forward (Eriksen and Lewis Holtby), are balanced by the more double-edged nature of Dembele and Paulinho.

    Such variances in style between the decent numbers in wide midfield and central defense can be found too. Though not as comparatively loaded, Spurs have enough in attack and at full-back they should be able to get by.

    Ultimately, it is going to be about how these resources are managed, and of course, how the personnel responds to the to's and fro's of the long season ahead.


Closing the Gap

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    Both a by-product of, and a factor as to why the previous reasons matter, is the fact that Tottenham have already closed the gap on those clubs who have frequently been competing for Champions League places.

    In six of the last eight seasons Spurs have finished in the top five. While only two of those seasons have seen Spurs make it to the Champions League places (of course in 2011-12 they were denied qualification by Chelsea winning the tournament), they have notably helped to break up the old order.

    For example, Liverpool—a former fixture here—have not finished fourth or higher since 2008-09.

    Spurs' fellow unwelcome interloper Manchester City were temporarily kept out  by the North London club a year later and but for their heroics in Munich in 2012, Chelsea too would have missed out on UEFA's cash-cow because of their cross-city foe.

    Spurs have more than proven they are a genuine contender in the upper echelon of the Premier League. Their attempts to maintain that status will be affected by the different circumstances they are in.

    The substantial alterations made to Villas-Boas' squad have engendered a little uncertainty to just how good the overall group will be.

    So long as they go some way to being as good as they are on paper (that means both the existing players who contributed to the aforementioned achievements, plus the new arrivals who have been highly rated elsewhere), it is difficult to see them dropping off.

    Currently sitting in sixth place having recorded four wins from seven games, the start to the season has been encouraging enough.

    The inability to kill off Chelsea and the capitulation to West Ham did provide reasonable cause for concern. However, the teething problems that marked these outcomes were always likely to be a feature of refashioning a semi-successful team.

    Moving beyond this process is the immediate challenge for Tottenham. Should they do that swiftly and positively enough, they have it within them to be competing for a Champions League place again.

    The long-term challenge will be just how strongly that claim compares to their rivals, among whom a stronger Arsenal and a resurgent Liverpool will make things as difficult as ever.