Tottenham Hotspur return “home” on Saturday for their second Premier League match of the season — by that I mean of course Wembley Stadium, England’s national stadium and where Spurs played all of their home matches last season.
It’s a place that Spurs now know quite well, and a destination that turned out to be not nearly as dire as some predicted before the start of last season. Spurs were 13-4-2 in the league at Wembley in 2017-18, their only losses coming to rivals Chelsea and Manchester City. The return to Wembley for the start of this season’s home campaign has been known for months as Spurs finish up the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and while fans may hate the atmosphere they should feel confident that after playing a season there they no longer have to worry about any sort of “curse.”
Fulham are one of the more interesting teams in the Premier League this season. After winning promotion from the Championship via a playoff victory over Aston Villa, the Cottagers went on to spend over £100m in the transfer window this summer, a staggeringly large amount for a newly promoted side. Slaviša Jokanović has a host of new talent to work with this season.
The crown jewel of those additions is probably Jean Michael Seri, a midfielder who was on the radar of a number of clubs, including Tottenham, and whom Fulham nabbed for £27m from Nice. Fulham also managed to snag central defender Alfie Mawson from relegated Swansea and defensive midfielder/Cameroon World Cup star André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, signed Andre Schurrle, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, and Calum Chambers on loan, and improved their attack by signing Aleksandar Mitrovic from under the noses of Newcastle. And, of course, they prevented their future superstar and PFA Young Player of the Year Ryan Sessegnon from being poached by Spurs or other clubs this summer as well.
All in all there are 12 new players at Craven Cottage, and while that could result in some growing pains in the short term — witness their opening home loss to Crystal Palace last weekend, a match in which they looked a little disjointed — the goal is clearly to not only avoid relegation this season, but for Fulham to position themselves for a mid-table or better finish and to use it as a spring-board to even better things in future seasons. Fulham played an attractive, up-tempo style of football under Jokanovic last season in the Championship. I expect they’ll want to do the same this season in the Premier League. That’s probably good news for Spurs, since they tend to blow clubs that try to play with them out of the water.
How will Spurs line up against Fulham?
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has had the benefit of another whole week (!) of training with his World Cup players. That’s not a lot, but it’s something. Spurs played decently well with a patchwork squad made up of reserves covering for injuries and three-quarters-fit star players, and got a weird away win at Newcastle last week. Now they should be a bit more settled for the return to Wembley.
The good news is that Erik Lamela, Harry Winks, and Josh Onomah have all returned to full training this week after recovering from their respective injuries. The bad news is that probably exactly none of them are match fit, and we shouldn’t count on any of them to feature vs. Fulham. Victor Wanyama and Juan Foyth are still on the injury list, and Son Heung-Min has departed for Indonesia to participate in the Asian Games.
Pochettino also hinted that some players could rotate in and out in the opening few matches. With that in mind, I suspect we’ll see a lineup that features some moderate rotation compared to last week’s match. I expect to see the same fluid 4-2-3-1/4-3-3/diamondish formation, featuring Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele in central midfield, Dele Alli playing slightly deeper ahead of them, and Lucas Moura and Christian Eriksen behind Harry Kane. We could see Moussa Sissoko retain his starting position from last week, with Dembele coming in as a super-sub late in the match, but I wonder if it’ll be the other way around this time. Hopefully Spurs will be up 3-0 by the time Dembele goes out in the 65th minute.
The biggest change will probably come in the defense — there’s a good chance that we’ll see Kieran Trippier back in the starting lineup in place of Serge Aurier. And if we’re rotating, and we have like-a-new-signing Toby Alderweireld in the roster, why not sub him in for Sanchez? It’s possible we could see a back three formation but based on Poch’s recent tactics that seems somewhat unlikely.
My best guess for Tottenham’s lineup is posted here. What’s yours?