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Accepting the realities of a transition year

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Jan Kruger

Tottenham Hotspur drew Sunderland 2-2 in pretty heartbreaking fashion this weekend, while Manchester United destroyed Queens Park Rangers even more thoroughly than we did and Arsenal put in a good performance against Manchester City. It has a lot of people pessimistic about Spurs' top four chances, and understandably so.

Stressing about top four is what Spurs fans do, but it's probably worth taking a year off from that. This is the first season in a long time where Spurs should have gone into it thinking about something other than top four, and where fans shouldn't be too worried about what's going to happen if they don't get there.

Saturday's result wasn't the first like it for Spurs in recent years, and it's unlikely to be the last gut-wrenching result of its kind in 2014. Tottenham are a young team with a new manager, and even a number of their accomplished veterans are known for their occasional mental meltdowns. There will be more games where they entertain, look dominant, and ultimately drop points.

What's important about Saturday's game is that Spurs did, indeed, look dominant and entertain. Not only were they the better team for the majority of the match, but they did it while playing quickly, trying tricks and flicks, hitting through balls and just generally playing the way that Spurs supporters want to see their team play. They weren't controlling the game like Andre Villas-Boas' teams controlled the game, while ultimately doing nothing with all of their possession. They looked like they were really trying to score, and that they were capable of doing it.

Perhaps the side's most entertaining player was Erik Lamela, who was supposedly such a flop that Tottenham were willing to offload him for a huge loss over the summer just to get most of their money back. Their goal scorers were Nacer Chadli, reportedly offered to everyone but unable to find a suitor, and Christian Eriksen, undoubtedly the team's most well-known star and brightest young player last season. It was everything that fans could have hoped for ... except for the two goals conceded.

Those two goals came from errors by two 20-year-olds. The first was conceded by a center back getting torched because playing out of position and the second was a bizarre own goal by a striker who got hung out to dry by the central defender in front of him. These aren't indicators of bad management or bad players or a general aura of incompetence around Spurs. They're just a combination of bad luck and inexperienced players doing what inexperienced players often do.

But that doesn't mean that everything's rosy at White Hart Lane, and Spurs are going to turn into a clear top-four contender. Arsenal's injury issues, Liverpool's inexperience with their upcoming fixture congestion and Manchester United's general incompetence could leave them in with a chance to grab fourth, but it's unlikely, and ultimately, that's fine.

This is a season for Tottenham Hotspur's new manager to start building the team he wants. It's a season for Harry Kane, Nabil Bentaleb and Eric Dier to turn into solid Premier League players, for Erik Lamela to leave his injury troubles behind and for Christian Eriksen to make the transition from excellent young player to star. It's a year for Federico Fazio, Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris to build a chemistry that sends them into next season as one of the best units in the league.

It sounds horribly defeatist and to some, totally disheartening to talk about next season in September, but it's not a negative thing. Spurs' goal for this year should be top four, but it also shouldn't be the end of the world if they don't get there. In Luca Modric's final season, Gareth Bale's final season and AVB's second campaign, that was the end-all, be-all, as it should have been. But in a year with that features a lot of young players getting blended in and a new manager, it's not the primary goal. The primary goal is building the foundation for the future.

During that process, we're going to get to watch a very fun team. We don't have to worry about losing a Modric or Bale this summer, or about what our manager situation is going to be next season. We have a good idea about what Spurs are going to look like between now and the summer of 2016. This is the first step towards what will hopefully be Champions League qualification, then shiny new contracts for Eriksen and Lamela.

For now? Just go along for the ride, and try not to get too stressed out about results like the one against Sunderland. This team is fun. Try to enjoy them.