Roberto Soldado and 5 Tottenham Players with a Point to Prove to Pochettino
Tottenham Hotspur have returned for pre-season training, undergoing their first session with new manager Mauricio Pochettino on Friday.
It is a fresh start for the north London club, one they hope will lead to an era of footballing prosperity. One of the first notable jobs to do in fulfilling such dreaming will be Pochettino evaluating his new players in person for the first time.
All of the Tottenham squad will be seeking to prove their worth to their new boss. For Roberto Soldado and a few other team-mates, there could be a greater urgency to do so.
The striker is the headline name of this group after a mixed season following his big-money move from Valencia. Joining him in the following list are others who had a tough 2013-14 season, or are facing a battle to stay first-choice in their position.
The following five, including Soldado, omits those such as Michael Dawson and Gylfi Sigurdsson whose respective futures are being speculated over in the media. While their future may lay elsewhere, in this writer's opinion they are not among the Spurs players with most to prove—you and Pochettino might think otherwise.
Academy products such as Tom Carroll and Andros Townsend are not included either due to the inherent challenge young players have in establishing themselves in the first-team.
We begin with the aforementioned Soldado...
Roberto Soldado's return of 11 goals last season was far from awful. Still, after £26 million had been paid for his services, more was expected of one of La Liga's most renowned marksmen.
Judging by the frustrated figure he often cut, and the relief after a rare 2014 goal against Cardiff City, Soldado does not need to be told this twice.
His poor form saw Harry Kane move ahead of him in the pecking order during the spring. It also cost him his place in Spain's World Cup squad.
Another year like that will not be on Soldado's agenda.
Tottenham's paucity of forward options—it is essentially the Spaniard, Kane and Emmanuel Adebayor in terms of out-and-out strikers with some experience—does the 29-year-old a favour in terms of his chances to impress Pochettino, at least to begin with before anyone else might arrive.
An immediate rekindling of the goalscoring talent we know Soldado possesses is a must in this regard.
Pre-season is a difficult gauge of such form, but confidence-wise it will be vital to him moving forward. Not to mention showing his manager he still knows how to find the back of the net.
Nine players with some first-team experience who are capable of playing central midfield are available to Pochettino to choose from. The manager probably trimming these options by at least a couple seems a fair assumption to make.
Bar last season's standout outfield performer Christian Eriksen (who could well take on a more attacking role anyway), you could argue for or against the future of just about any of these players.
Having failed to convince either of his previous two Tottenham managers he should be starting on a regular basis, the man most in need of a good start now has to be Lewis Holtby.
The German was utilised by Andre Villas-Boas, but predominantly as cover or to fill in a hole. Tim Sherwood decided he preferred others in midfield and let him join Fulham on loan for the remainder of the season.
According his representative Marcus Noack, via Sky Sports' Lyall Thomas, Holtby is determined to make a success of it at Spurs:
Lewis is optimistic about the future at Spurs. There is a new manager there now which means it's a fresh start for him and a fresh start for everyone.
He is happy at Tottenham and has a good feeling there. He wants to stay and prove himself and be part of the team.
Holtby's movement and all-round desire to get on the ball was certainly missed in some staid midfield showings from Spurs late last-season. The other midfielder similarly capable of working the spaces around opposition players so intelligently, Tom Carroll, was also on loan during 2013-14.
Whether Pochettino sees a use for such a skill set will become apparent in time. Going by the reception Holtby received at Ledley King's testimonial in May, his is a presence the White Hart Lane faithful certainly hope will be around come August.
"Mauricio Pochettino has told Erik Lamela he will be a major part of his plans," wrote The Mirror's John Cross on June 9. A few days later the Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel reported the attacker had "been assured he will play a key role at Tottenham next season."
Such stories popped up throughout June, the first headline news of Pochettino's plans for his Tottenham squad.
If accurate, the news of the Argentinian's part in his compatriot's thinking will have been a timely boost for Lamela's confidence.
Most reasoned observers agreed there was more to the 22-year-old's first year in England than the oft-used "flop" label would suggest. Especially considering injury all but ended the expensive acquisition from Roma's season shortly into the new year.
His talent was not in doubt, evident as it was in flourishes such as his match-winning assist away at Cardiff City and against Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League. His ability to handle the physicality and aggression of Premier League defenders was, and still is, however.
Lamela will certainly need to find some genuine form as it relates to his specific attacking contributions. But most of these will hinge on him better standing up to English football's often unforgiving nature.
Pochettino may well want to use him. First he will need to see Lamela has taken appropriate steps to get better.
Via social media at least, the player is giving the impression he is ready for the challenge.
Londres! Con mi amigo Joel, listo para la pretemporada !! London! With my friend Joel, ready for pre-season !! ✌👌 pic.twitter.com/tspui8l3Ys— Erik Manuel Lamela (@Coco_Lamela) July 3, 2014
For the first time in his Tottenham career, the seemingly perpetually youthful Aaron Lennon is showing signs age might indeed be slowing him down.
Away at Liverpool in April, the 27-year-old toiled up against Jon Flanagan. Lennon had previously enjoyed several fine outings against the Reds, but here the full-back six years his junior had his number.
It was one of several stilted displays throughout last season, evidence of his pace not being quite as damaging as it once was. For the first time since he moved to north London, Lennon's arguably diminished usefulness has suggested it might be time for the team to move further away from its previous trademark wing focus.
Then again, the situation is probably not as clear-cut as that suggests.
There is still a zip to Lennon's play, while he has long since honed attributes that make him more than just a speed-merchant. When he returned from injury to the Spurs starting XI just prior to Christmas last year, his thoughtfulness on the ball proved a timely tonic after the more direct style of Andros Townsend had begun to be sussed out.
Lennon's form dipped in the new year as he sparkled only occasionally. Crucially, his underrated ability to get back and pitch in defensively still remained.
The time has passed—at least for now—when Lennon deserves to be regarded as an automatic starter. It is up to him to adapt his game to its age-imposed limitations, finding a way to utilise his nous in the final third and not so reliant on being able to take a man on.
Should he do so, Pochettino will find a more than useful performer at his disposal.
At the time of writing, speculation continues to mount that Tottenham want to sign Swansea City left-back Ben Davies. The Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel reported on Thursday the north Londoners "are determined to overcome a transfer wrangle with Swansea City in their attempts to land" the 21-year-old.
Spurs' interest in Davies could be bad news for last season's first-choice left-back Danny Rose.
A latecomer to the position, 2013-14 was only the 24-year-old's second full Premier League season playing there. In his first he had gone to Sunderland on loan in search of first-team football, doing sufficiently well to convince then-manager Villas-Boas he could do a job for him.
Back at Spurs, Rose posted an inconsistent return.
Early on, injury ruled him out until December. When fit again his performances varied enough in quality to the point his future is now in doubt.
In this writer's end-of-season power rankings, Rose was described as "a capable, often strong defender in one-on-one situations and a useful source of energy in attack. Too often, however, he could be seen barely jogging back into position, leaving his flank exposed."
The latter is the most incriminating blot on his reputation. For the full-back to win over Pochettino, he has to go about proving he is a player he can rely on at all times, not just when it suits him.
Should he do that, the experience he has accumulated now at left-back may begin to serve him even better.