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Tottenham Hotspur Season Preview: Part I

This Saturday, Tottenham Hotspur open their season against Manchester City. If I told you I had a good idea of what is going to happen in this game or this season, I would be lying to you. I would love to say with conviction that Spurs are going to finish 4th, 5th, 6th, whatever. I can't. They're completely unpredictable. I don't know how much Harry plans on utilizing Keane and Pavlyuchenko. I don't know what kind of impact Sandro and Gio might make on the team. I don't know if Harry actually is considering giving Jenas significant playing time. We could finish anywhere between 3rd and 8th and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.

There is good news, though. First of all, the fact that a guy like me who is regularly pessimistic about his teams thinks that our ceiling is 3rd is good for something. Second, I think that the only team that has the ability to withstand injuries to key players better than Spurs is Manchester United, and that is down to the versatility of our players. I don't think that there's another team in the Premier League who has so many players who can fill multiple positions competently. Players who can play multiple positions have become a staple of this team in recent years, and besides just protecting against injury problems, it's a feature of the squad that makes them as unpredictable as a team who plays a basic English-style 4-4-2 can be.

So, while I can't tell you where we're going to finish, what I can do is tell you what we have. How Harry utilizes it, though, is pure speculation. Part I will address our keepers and defense. Part II tomorrow will address the midfield, and Part III will address the attack.

Goalkeepers

Gomes: After a tough start to life at the Lane, the Brazilian keeper impressed for most of last year and finished with four absolutely stunning performances that lead Spurs to 4th place. His play against Chelsea, Arsenal, Bolton, and Manchester City preserved three points in all four of those matches that may not have been earned by a lesser keeper. Many Spurs fans were hard on Gomes after a poor first season for the club and labeled him as inconsistent, but he has recently proved the doubters wrong.

I think that Gomes's years at PSV and his performances last season for Spurs are a much better indicator of his abilities than his poor start to life in the Premier League. You don't win four consecutive Eredivisie titles and become a legend at a club like PSV by accident. Gomes should be Spurs' clear #1 this season and he's more than talented enough to be an adequate player for that role.

Carlo Cudicini: Many people were of the belief that Cudicini was brought in to replace Gomes rather than challenge him and be a great #2 option, but that has not been the case in his short time at Spurs. Last season, a horrific motorcycle accident in which Cudicini broke multiple bones was thought to be career threatening, but he has recovered fully and featured throughout the preseason. While his age has relegated him to a backup role, Cudicini's first seven years as the #1 for Chelsea show that he's more than capable of stepping in when need be.

Cudicini is an excellent #2 option for Spurs, even at 36 years old. He showed it in his appearances last season when Gomes was injured. Extremely dependable.

Ben Alnwick: He's still on the team? This guy hasn't even been successful in loan spells to Championship and League One sides, mostly due to constant injuries. This is not a good sign for a guy who is supposed to be your apocalypse option.

Defenders

Ledley King: Our hero, the CFC. We saw last season that Ledley King can still be world class occasionally, but we shouldn't expect him to play more than 20 league games this season. In his few preseason appearances, King has not looked good. His straight-line pace, change of direction skills, and ability to react to a forward changing his run have all been poor. He may just be getting back into shape, but it's not exactly easy for a man with no knees to do cardio, and it's almost impossible for a man with no knees to do speed drills. Regardless of all this, King was brilliant down the stretch last season. When he is on his A game, he's about the best central defender we could ever hope to have. Unfortunately, his medical problems mean that the number of games King will be on his A game this season will likely be in the single digits.

When King is healthy, he is our best defender. Sadly, he won't be healthy very often, and we can't push him if we want him to be around past this year. I expect 15-20 good performances from King this year, and Harry is probably going into the season assuming that is what he is going to get. Anything beyond that is gravy.

Michael Dawson: After years of inconsistency and performances riddled with mental errors, Michael Dawson appeared to finally grow up last season. No one has ever questioned Michael Dawson's natural ability or work ethic, just his focus and footballing brain. Last season, he put to rest the rumors that he doesn't have what it takes upstairs to go from average Premier League central defender to very good Premier League central defender. With that year behind him, King not getting any healthier, and Woodgate essentially being done, Dawson will have to shoulder a heavy load this season. Spurs will need him to stay healthy and put in a solid shift in 30+ Premier League games to reach their full ambitions.

Dawson should play more games than any other central defender for Spurs this season, and because of King's questionable health and Keane's questionable squad status, he should probably wear the armband more often than any other player as well.

Sebastien Bassong: After joining Spurs from Newcastle for £8m, Bassong became a first team regular for Spurs last year, playing in 28 Premier League games and 38 games in all competitions. His most memorable moment of last season was his goal against Liverpool, but Bassong should be remembered for being a solid defender for Spurs all season. He's a considerably quicker player than all of Tottenham's other central defenders, making him a good partner for the slower and stronger Dawson.

I would expect to see Bassong get at least as much time this season as he did last season. He's #3 on the depth chart at central defender, but King's health means he's really more like 2 1/2.

Younes Kaboul: After a promising but ultimately mediocre first spell at Spurs, Kaboul was sold to Portsmouth in 2007. There, he improved significantly as a player and was brought back to Spurs last year by Harry Redknapp. At 6'4" and a weight that is probably under-listed, Younes Kaboul is an absolute monster of a man who has impressive pace and footwork for a guy his size. This allows him to play as a right back and defensive midfielder, as well as his preferred spot at central defender.

Kaboul's versatility is his biggest virtue and why he will always have a place in any side. I expect to see Kaboul play both central defender and right back this year, but not so much as a defensive midfielder with the arrival of Sandro. Certainly a valuable, versatile bench player.

Gareth Bale: Can we really call Bale a "defender?" He's not poor defensively, but that's not really what he brings to Spurs. Simply, I'm putting him here because I expect him to play more games at left back this season than left midfield. When Bale joined from Southampton as a teenager in 2007, expectations were high. In the beginning of the 2007-2008 season, while Spurs struggled, Bale impressed and was among the best players on the pitch during Tottenham's awful start. A bad injury took him out for an extended period of time and he struggled to regain his first team place after recovering until last season. When finally given the chance to start in big games, Bale made everything of it and has now cemented himself as one of the first names on the team sheet. Bale is a ridiculous athlete with an even more ridiculous left foot and many believe that his success is key to the success of the team.

Simply put, Spurs need Bale in the lineup. If he's not on form and not healthy, we're probably not going to compete with the big boys of the Premier League. After the way he finished last season and the way he's played in the preseason, many people are expecting Bale to break out this season and transition from quality player to superstar.

Vedran Corluka: At 6'4" with plenty of weight on him and not a great deal of pace, Vedran Corluka is not your traditional right back. However, he has made that spot his own over the last two seasons and appears to be a clear first choice for Spurs. While he isn't the fastest player in the world, Corluka's intelligence and surprisingly good technical skills for his body type and position have made him a great option as a fullback. His positioning and tackling skills prevent significantly faster players from beating him on a regular basis. Corluka also has the ability to play in the center of defense more than competently.

Expect Corluka to be first choice at right back yet again this season. Hutton seems out of favor and Naughton isn't ready for the big show yet, so his only real competition will come from Younes Kaboul.

Benoit Assou-Ekotto: Ekotto was a reliable fixture in Spurs' lineup last year, but he's a bit of an interesting case. Ekotto is perhaps the only player in the team whose playing time is minimally dependent on how good he is. If Harry prefers Bale at left back over left midfield, there's very little Ekotto can do to re-gain his place. If Harry likes Bale better at left midfield than right back, Ekotto might keep his place even if his play is mediocre. Regardless, Ekotto is a decent option at left back and is worthy of some playing time.

Ekotto has not been quiet about the fact that he doesn't have loyalty to any club and that he would be keen on a transfer back to France. Additionally, he has been linked to Liverpool by various transfer rumors. It will be interesting to see if Ekotto is indeed a Spurs player on September 1st.

Alan Hutton: After an extremely impressive start to his career at Rangers, Spurs purchased Hutton for around £9m in 2008. Since joining, Hutton has been a serviceable right back, but has failed to impress for the most part.

With the Premier League's introduction of squad size limits for players over the age of 21, I wouldn't be surprised to see Hutton sold or loaned out again. For me, he's the third choice right back.

Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton: Is grouping these guys together unfair? Perhaps, they do play different positions after all. The reason I'm grouping Walker and Naughton together is that I don't feel that either of them are ready for the big time and I wouldn't be surprised to see both of them loaned out yet again. I'd set the over/under on Premier League starts for both of these guys at 1.5. If they do stick around, don't expect to see them in much more than cup fixtures.

Johnathan Woodgate: Poor Johnny appears to be exiting the club. Harry Redknapp has hinted that Woodgate will be left off his 25 man squad after injuries forced him to make only 3 Premier League appearances last season. At the top of his game, Woodgate has been a class player, but because of his health, he has rarely been at the top of his game. Woodgate has been great in his time at the club when healthy, and I hope that he can get healthy once again and establish himself as a regular starter at a new club.

That's it for Part I, look for Part II tomorrow