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Tottenham Hotspur season preview: Optimism is scary

This team is actually better than Liverpool and Arsenal and maybe as good as United and we actually have reason to hope and oh god I'm gonna throw up.

Michael Regan

Tottenham Hotspur have been one of the four-to-six best teams in the Premier League since the 2005-06 season. They've managed to Spurs things up spectacularly in most of the seasons between then and now, somehow only qualifying for Champions League on one occasion, despite having a squad good enough to challenge for that distinction for about eight years.

This year, they enter the season with a better first choice XI and a deeper team than both Arsenal and Liverpool, as well as with a manager who has a full season at Spurs under his belt. Everything is setting up for Tottenham to have one of the best seasons in the history of the club.

Who's terrified? I'm terrified.

Last year: 5th

Key player: Roberto Soldado

The reason Gareth Bale isn't here is because it's anyone's guess whether or not he'll be a Tottenham Hotspur player this season. He's out injured until the North London Derby, at least, by which point he could be on the books at Real Madrid. If Bale departs, the key man will be Spurs' new line-leading center forward, who will be depended on to do a whole lot more than Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe ever have in a white shirt. Even if a star comes in to replace Bale, Spurs will go as Soldado goes. He'll need to live up to his £26m price tag for Spurs to comfortably finish top four.

Potential breakout star: Lewis Holtby

Holtby faces competition from Gylfi Sigurdsson for a regular place, along with a host of other players who could potentially play as a No. 10 or the most advanced midfielder in three-man center, but he undoubtedly has the highest ceiling of all of them. Holtby's performances for the German Under-21 national team and Schalke suggest that he has all of the tools to become one of the world's best attacking midfielders, but he's yet to put it all together in a Spurs shirt. His spring was highly disappointing, but a full preseason with his new club could be the catalyst that sparks Holtby's rise to stardom.

Unfortunately for Holtby, he has a slight injury and Sigurdsson has had a solid preseason. He might end up losing his spot for an extended period of time through no fault of his own. In the event that Sigurdsson is good against Crystal Palace on Sunday, it's going to take some excellent performances in training (and/or cup games) for Holtby to win his spot.

Additions: Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Danny Rose (loan return), Andros Townsend (loan return)

Soldado and Paulinho should slot directly into the Spurs' first team and keep starting places as long as they're fit and don't suffer massive downturns in form. They're the first and second-most expensive signings in the club's history and regulars for arguably the two best national sides on earth. Chadli and Capoue will start the season as key backups, but should have every chance to win regular playing time. Rose looks set to stick with Spurs this season, while Townsend could potentially leave the club or be a key substitute and cup game player.

Departures: Clint Dempsey, Steven Caulker, Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore (loan), David Bentley, William Gallas

Bentley and Gallas weren't exactly key players last season and were allowed to walk on free transfers. Huddlestone has been sold to Hull, where he's joined by Jake Livermore, who is on loan. Clint Dempsey was a bit of a disappointment last year and Spurs were lucky that MLS was willing to pay them most of what they paid Fulham for the American attacker. The sale of Steven Caulker still has most fans baffled. A number of other fringe first team players have left on loan.

Could still leave: Gareth Bale, Scott Parker, Jermain Defoe, Emmanuel Adebayor, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll

The Gareth Bale transfer saga has sadly defined Tottenham's offseason, even though they've broken their club record transfer fee twice to bring in two experienced senior internationals. Anyone who says they know he's going or staying is lying. This saga won't be over until September 3 or the day he's presented at the Bernabeu. At the moment, it appears that Andre Villas-Boas is preparing for life without Bale.

It's highly unlikely that both Adebayor and Defoe are shipped out, even if Spurs buy another striker. That's likely a one or the other kind of deal. Scott Parker's departure is inevitable and should happen shortly. Assou-Ekotto's departure is still very much up in the air, but the notably candid left back has hinted on Twitter that he's not playing for Spurs anymore (in a very respectful way; he has nothing but good things to say about the club). Townsend could be sold or loaned, but likely loaned out if he leaves. A loan for Carroll is looking increasingly likely as well.

Rumored transfer targets: Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Miralem Pjanic, Pablo Osvaldo, Vlad Chiriches, Alvaro Morata, Alen Halihovic, Fabio Coentrao

Well, that's a mouthful. This is what happens when you're rumored to be selling a player for somewhere between £85m and £105m. Morata, if he came, would come as part of the Bale deal. Lamela is unlikely to come unless Bale is sold. The Chiriches deal looks dead until January. Alderwiereld has struggled recently for Ajax, but that could just because his head's already in England. Coentrao could come in as a BAE replacement separate from the Bale deal. Halihovic's family continues to block a deal. The other links don't make a ton of sense, but who knows what's going to happen. Also, expect Spurs to get linked to a CB who isn't Chiriches or Alderweireld shortly.

Projected opening weekend starting XI: Hugo Lloris; Danny Rose, Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul, Kyle Walker; Paulinho, Mousa Dembele, Gylfi Sigurdsson; Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Aaron Lennon

Jan Vertonghen, Sandro, Lewis Holtby and Gareth Bale are all struggling with injuries, while Etienne Capoue trained with the team for the first time on Wednesday. This means that one of Paulinho or Dembele is going to have to play a more defensive role than they'd like. Younes Kaboul is just recently back from injury and looks ready to play, but Zeki Fryers could get an emergency start.

Season prediction: 4th

A lot can happen between now and September 2, but there's no reason to pick Arsenal or Liverpool to finish above Tottenham at the moment. It's very possible that both teams strengthen while Spurs sell Bale and fail to sign a top-notch attacking midfielder before the window shuts, but as-is, Spurs have the best squad of the three teams. Manchester United need some serious help and David Moyes is untested at this level, but it's tough to see them slipping below third. City and Chelsea have unbelievable squads and -- don't kill me -- I like their managers better than Andre Villas-Boas as well.

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