“It’s an exciting opportunity for us to set off in a new direction, play football and create an environment that embodies the values and traditions of this fantastic football club, hopefully a team you can all be proud of and, more importantly, get excited by.” Ange Postecoglou certainly talked the talk in his first message to Tottenham fans following his appointment as Antonio Conte’s successor.
Now comes the hard part of walking the walk and leading what has become a disjointed and dejected group of players. Tottenham finished eighth in the Premier League, which means they will have no European football for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign. That being said, this means that Spurs can focus on domestic duties, easing the pressure on Postecoglou in his first season in England. Not playing in Europe can have its advantages – as shown by Liverpool in 2013-14, Leicester in 2015-16, Chelsea in 2016-17 and even Newcastle in the season just finished.
Spurs supporters are absolutely desperate to see the club win their first piece of silverware since they lifted the League Cup in 2008, but they will have to be patient as the club prepare for a hard reset under the Australian. The team needs to improve in a number of areas, starting between the sticks. A sound goalkeeper provides the perfect foundation and, to the club’s credit, they are looking to rectify the issue.
For so long Hugo Lloris was a matchwinner for Spurs, pulling off the very best of saves to deny opponents. But this season has undoubtedly been his worst for the club. Few Spurs players covered themselves in glory, but Lloris looked a shadow of his former self at club level – if not at the World Cup. The 36-year-old committed more errors that led to goals (four) than any other player in the Premier League and he returned a save success rate of just 66.4% to cap a disappointing campaign.
“It’s the end of an era,” Lloris said of his Spurs career earlier this month, effectively confirming his summer exit from the club. After 11 years at the club, he says he has “desires for other things” and that he will “see where fate takes me”. With Fraser Forster the only senior keeper on the books, some new blood is imperative for Spurs.
David Raya is the club’s top target and that should not be a surprise. Raya finished top for saves (154), save success rate (75.1%) and accurate long balls (410) in the Premier League this season. Signing the Spaniard would help Spurs build attacks from the back more regularly. The role of the modern-day goalkeeper is essentially to act as an 11th outfield player and Raya is a big upgrade on Lloris.
Raya has a year left on his contract at Brentford, is unlikely to sign a new deal and has apparently agreed personal terms with Spurs. But the two clubs have not yet negotiated a fee. The Brentford manager, Thomas Frank, says Raya is for sale at £40m, though Spurs are reluctant to pay that much for a keeper who is approaching the end of his contract.
Bringing in a centre-back is also key. Postecoglou is expected to move away from the three-man backline that Antonio Conte implemented and revert to his favoured 4-3-3 system. So securing the right partner for the hot-headed Cristian Romero is of the utmost importance. Many fans are hoping Eric Dier will not line up alongside the Argentinian at the start of next season, while Clément Lenglet’s future remains up in the air.
Celtic dominated the Scottish Premiership last season under Postecoglou, with his two centre-backs Carl Starfelt (93) and former Spurs man Cameron Carter-Vickers (87) ranking first and second, respectively, for passes per game in the division. The Premier League is clearly a step up, but these statistics show the type of defenders Postecoglou will hope to use next season.
The Spanish pair Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte have both been linked with a move to Tottenham, though Torres is a rumoured target for Aston Villa where he would link up with his former manager Unai Emery and it remains to be seen whether Laporte would be prepared to drop down a level, even if he would be a guaranteed starter when fit.
The Roma defender Roger Ibañez is also on the club’s radar. The Italian side have landed Evan Ndicka on a free transfer, so may choose to cash in on the feisty Brazilian. Laporte would be the best fit were City prepared to sell and their ongoing pursuit of Josko Gvardiol suggests they are preparing for life without the Spain international. That being said, a centre-back partnership of Ibañez and Romero would have opposition strikers fearing for their ankles.
Then comes the player who will operate at the base of Postecoglou’s three-man midfield. Rather than picking a ballwinner in that position while at Celtic, Postecoglou often deployed Callum McGregor to dictate the tempo. No one in the Spurs squad has this skillset, though Conte’s departure offers an on-loan midfielder a shot at redemption.
Tanguy Ndombele’s club-record £55m move to Spurs in 2019 did not go to plan. The Frenchman returned to Lyon on loan for six months at the start of last year before going on loan for the season to Napoli, where he has won a league title. He was not first choice at Napoli – Luciano Spalletti favoured a midfield trio of André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Stanislav Lobotka and Piotr Zielinski – but he did make 40 appearances in all competitions.
Postecoglou intends to give returning loan players opportunities to impress in pre-season and Ndombele may benefit from working with a forward-thinking manager. Mess up this chance, however, and the 26-year-old will surely be shown the door. If he can grasp his opportunity, the club may finally see a return on their investment.
Of course, given the player’s indifferent time at the club under previous managers, Postecoglou may struggle to bring out the best in Ndombele. Spurs could also consider a move for the Southampton captain, James Ward-Prowse, who would prove a solid addition in midfield and bolster the club’s homegrown quota – the 28-year-old would kill two birds with one stone.
There are other problem areas in the squad that need addressing, but the positions in most need of rejuvenation are in goal, defence and midfield. Strengthen these and Postecoglou will have the best possible start at Tottenham.