Tottenham risk slow start with no summer signings and injury issues
While the rest of the Premier League's "big six" clubs decide whether to throw their summer signings in at the deep end this weekend, there are no selection headaches for Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino ahead of the opening day. Spurs are the only top-flight club yet to make a summer signing and Pochettino is already down to the bare bones of his squad.
Kieran Trippier hobbled off in Saturday's friendly win against Juventus and Spurs' only senior right-back (after the sale of Kyle Walker to Man City) is a major doubt for the curtain-raiser at Newcastle on Sunday.
Left-back Danny Rose is not expected to be fit before the end of the month after a knee operation, while midfielder Erik Lamela is even further away following double hip surgery. Victor Wanyama (knee) and Son Heung-Min (arm) could both be fit for the game at St. James' Park but are unlikely to be risked after barely featuring in preseason.
Pochettino has already ruled out a competitive debut for Kyle Walker-Peters, the 20-year-old full-back who won the Under-20 World Cup with England in June, saying he is not ready for the Premier League. And Joshua Onomah, another U20 World Cup-winner, was loaned to Aston Villa last week.
The manager does not trust the club's young players to start in the Premier League yet -- although Walker-Peters, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Marcus Edwards should all get minutes in the domestic cups.
The manager's biggest decision at St. James' Park is therefore whether to start with Eric Dier as a right-back in a 4-2-3-1 formation or play him in a three-man defence and use an auxiliary right wing-back like Moussa Sissoko. It is still a strong XI but if another injury arrives -- to Dier, Ben Davies or Mousa Dembele, for example -- then Pochettino would have to go back on his word or get creative.
Spurs will sign players this summer but chairman Daniel Levy, who mocked the "totally unsustainable" spending of the club's Premier League rivals last month, believes there is currently no value in the transfer market -- a view supported by Pochettino.
For example, Spurs would like to sign Everton midfielder Ross Barkley, who has one year remaining on his contract, but they are not willing to meet the reported £35m asking price, and their hope is that the Toffees will cave in as the Aug. 31 transfer deadline approaches.
Spurs are also being forced to wait until the rest of Europe's elite have conducted their own business. They were in talks with Argentine U20 defender Juan Foyth of Estudiantes but Paris Saint-Germain entered the bidding, raising the asking price and the player's wage demands, and Spurs cooled their interest.
Improving a team that finished second last season -- with a club-record Premier League points total and the best attack and defence in the top-flight -- while simultaneously building an £800m stadium and spending within your means is, of course, no easy feat. Pochettino has said that it is a struggle to convince players to join, given the strength of his current first XI.
But leaving it late to make signings brings obvious risks. It is usually harder for players to settle without a preseason behind them -- Sissoko, signed for £30m from Newcastle on transfer deadline day last summer, is a good example -- but the biggest risk is another slow start, particularly as defending champions Chelsea are the first visitors to Wembley.
Spurs have been the best team in the country over the last two seasons but better starts could have made a significant difference in their title chases. In 2015-16, they lost to Manchester United on the opening day and never regained the ground on eventual champions Leicester City. Last year, they drew two of their three opening games and ended up finishing seven points behind winners Chelsea.
Everything Spurs do in the transfer market is a gamble and Levy would argue that signing the right players for the right prices late in the day is preferable to taking expensive potshots in June and July.
The club's summer is another argument in favour of the transfer window closing before the start of the season -- something Pochettino has advocated -- but for now the club face playing the first two or three matches with last season's injury-hit squad.
Spurs are gambling that when the new signings do arrive, they are not already playing catch-up again.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.