VAVEL's 20/21 Season Previews: Spurs' tough challenge met with quiet optimism  
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06: A general view inside of the stadium during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Everton FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on July 06, 2020 in London, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur begin their 2020/2021 Premier League campaign on Sunday, when they hosting Everton.

It is José Mourinho’s first full season at the helm.

The results last season were too inconsistent to mount a top-four challenge - but a late resurgence meant that Spurs secured a sixth-place finish.

A Champions League finish will be the aim, but that task looks more daunting by the day.

Many top teams have strengthened their sides in the market - most notably Chelsea.

As well as this, Mourinho will look to be competitive in the cup competitions.

Spurs feature in the Europa League for the first time in five years and Mourinho has stated many times his desire to win that with Tottenham.

This represents a very welcome path to the Champions League slot instead of the top four.

Despite this positive, Arsenal winning the FA Cup condemned the Lilywhites to play in three qualifying rounds.

As a result, Spurs’ early-season schedule is absolutely packed - with a game almost every two days.

Recapping pre-season

The unlikely circumstances of the Coronavirus outbreak and the enforced 100-day-break from football changed a lot of things.

One of them is how quickly the transition of seasons would occur, meaning pre-season is a lot shorter than normal.

For example, Man Utd haven’t played one pre-season friendly before they start the season.

As it is, Tottenham have had a successful run of pre-season friendlies.

They managed to get four games in against Ipswich, Birmingham, Reading, and Watford.

For the most, Spurs looked lively and a range of players got much-needed minutes under their belt before the challenging start of the season starts.

They won all of them except the most recent one against Watford, where they fell 2-1 in poor performance.

In general, it was an important pre-season and may pay dividends compared to teams they have not had the same preparation.

Heung Min-Son was his usual brilliant self against Reading and Ipswich, while Dele Alli also looked lively.

Gedson Fernandes was also utilised as a right-back - indicating Serge Aurier’s probable departure. The out-of-favour Portuguese might have taken up a new trade to try and enter Mourinho’s plans.

Transfer business

This summer window was one of the biggest in Spurs’ recent history - the club is in a clear need of a rebuild with clear gaps throughout the team.

It’s fair to say, most of the Spurs faithful will be satisfied with the business so far.

However, it is clear that more needs to be done before the deadline on 5 October for it to be a wild success.

The first signing was Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg from Southampton, for a reported fee of 17 million pounds.

A tidy central defensive midfielder, who can also break lines, Hojbjerg was an obvious requirement.

This signing made perfect sense, especially as he was stripped of the Saints' captaincy after he admitted his desire to leave.

He fills a much-needed gap and brings excellent leadership to the squad. It is a good signing all round.

The next was the more questioned acquisition of Joe Hart on a free transfer.

The transfer seemed to happen overnight. Once you get over the shock, the deal makes a lot of sense.

Despite being out of favour since his Manchester City departure, he brings a vast amount of experience and is a massive character to have in the dressing room.

He also fills a much-needed homegrown spot - which frees up the spaces to bring foreign players into the squad.

Also, with Spurs competing in the Europa League, they will need as many squad players as they can get their hands on.

The latest signing was Matt Doherty from Wolves, for a reported fee of £13million.

This capture was one that has turned the most heads, and it has been widely viewed as one of the biggest bargains as of yet in the window.

Not only is the right-back position one Spurs needed desperately, but they have also weakened a close rival.

So often was Aurier was allowed the license to be an attacking presence down the right-hand side - but he failed to deliver a quality final ball.

Doherty has made a name for exactly this, bursting into the box and also getting a decent return of goals and assists.

All of this, and his price, makes this an excellent coup for Tottenham.

The only notable departure from the first- team is Kyle Walker-Peters, who was sent to Southampton with Hojbjerg coming to North London.

The academy graduate never made his stamp on the first team, failing to get a run of games.

The likes of Troy Parrott and Oliver Skipp have been loaned to Millwall and Norwich respectively.

Both of these deals make sense - each young talent will get the minutes required to take their game to the next level.

Despite the positive incomings, there is a massive sense that more is needed to push onto that next level.

A backup striker feels like an absolute must. With all the fixtures coming in thick and fast, an injury to Harry Kane could be fatal.

Ollie Watkins and Callum Wilson were targeted, but have both opted to become the main starters at Aston Villa and Newcastle respectively.

A centre-back of real quality feels of need, considering the vulnerable defence played a massive part in Spurs’ disappointing campaign.   

Who is Spurs' key player?

Trying to pick Spurs’ key player for the upcoming season has been the easiest task since 2015. Kane should always be the answer.

The elite striker is everything, he is the focal point of the team. For years now, he has been driving the team forward while having a world-class eye for goal.

He has to stay fit for Tottenham to reach their goals this season. His constant delivery of goals will be decisive.

This was proven after he was back fit during Project Restart and the team looked a much better outfit.

The 27-year-old scored seven goals in nine games and also looked a lot more accustomed to Mourinho’s preferred style of football.

His partnership with Son is developing nicely as they started to look devastating on the counter-attack.

If those two keep fit and firing through the season, that can only be a good thing for Spurs.

A breakthrough talent

Spurs have a range of youngsters developing through their world-class academy, but two of their most well-known in Parrott and Skipp have been loaned out.

This leaves someone less well-known to break through into the first team.

Dennis Cirkin, 18 years old, is one to look out for. He has featured a few times in the pre-season friendlies at left-back and impressed everyone with his dynamism up and down the left flank.

With Danny Rose appearing surplus to requirements, there is a void in the back-up role.

Cirkin's emergence could give Ryan Sessegnon a license to develop as an attacking left-winger instead of left-back.

Even then, three left-backs could be rotated with the fixture build-up.

In his second week in the job, Mourinho singled Cirkin out in a press conference following the youngster’s outstanding performance for Spurs Under-23s against their Olympiakos counterparts in the UEFA Youth League.

“OK, he’s 17, but he’s a kid with a lot of quality, and I look forward to bringing him to train with us and to help his development.”

Dennis Cirkin. Watch this space.

Writer's verdict

Personally, I enter the season quietly optimistic. This is a mix of the impressive end of season form and the clever signings.

The problem is, what is success? The quality and proven world-class teams, such as Man City and Liverpool, already are a given for a Champions League spot.

That leaves Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea, and Spurs all competing for two places. That is assuming that a Leicester, Wolves, or Everton don’t make things even more complicated.

For me, despite it being a long process, the Europa League has to be looked at with priority.

Firstly, it’s a well-respected trophy and would ease the calls from angry supporters about the lack of silverware at the club in recent history.

Also, it represents a fantastic path to the Champions League which would be a massive success for Mourinho’s first season.

It would also buy the 57-year-old a lot of time to rebuild this squad without calls for his head.

It’s going to be tough. Mourinho needs his key players’ to stay fit to cope with all the fixtures.

However, for the first time in a long time, there is not much pressure in terms of expectations.

Not many will have Spurs finishing in the top four or winning a trophy, which could play into their hands.

Should Spurs fans expect the top four? It’s tough - it’s a massive season for everyone at Tottenham.