Tottenham’s quest to go one better than in 2016-17 and finally lift the Premier League title begins on Sunday with a tough test away to newly-promoted Newcastle United.
The club’s progression since Mauricio Pochettino took the helm is clear to see. A fifth-placed finish in 2014-15 was improved to third the following season, and last year Spurs ended the campaign runners-up to Chelsea.
But behind those encouraging numbers is the fact that neither Leicester City nor Chelsea were unduly troubled by the north Londoners’ challenge on their way to glory, and this season Pochettino will be desperate to mount a real title challenge in spite of a disappointing transfer window so far.
Can Spurs hope to challenge the likes of the Blues, Manchester City and Manchester United? This weekend’s opener will yield some early clues about their Premier League pedigree.
Two long-term injuries continue to dog Pochettino as he prepares to kick off a fresh Premier League campaign.
Argentine playmaker Erik Lamela has been out since October 2016 with a hip injury, and while he rejoined training in July he is not expected to be available for selection until October or November at the earliest.
Danny Rose will also miss the start of the season as he continues his recovery from a knee injury sustained at the start of the year, and is likely to miss all of Spurs’ fixtures in August.
On top of those absences, Spurs face starting the season without right-back Kieran Trippier, who injured his ankle against Juventus and is set to sit out two weeks of action this month.
No Tottenham player is suspended for the trip to St. James’ Park, with Dele Alli’s ongoing three-match ban only valid for European competition.
TOTTENHAM POTENTIAL STARTING LINE-UP
The departure of Kyle Walker to Manchester City leaves a hole in the Spurs backline which Pochettino will have to fill, either from his own ranks or with his first signing of the window.
Valencia’s Joao Cancelo has been mooted as a possible replacement, but in the meantime the defence is badly short of personnel, with Trippier’s injury compounding the issue.
Youngster Kyle Walker-Peters is unlikely to be thrown in at the deep end, leaving Eric Dier ready to deputise on the right side.
Victor Wanyama and Heung-min Son, meanwhile, are two regular starters who barely featured during pre-season, leaving them short of match fitness.
That opens the door for Moussa Sissoko to play against his old team, while Harry Winks and Mousa Dembele are charged with anchoring the midfield and Harry Kane kicks off what Spurs fans will hope is another brilliant season as the lone striker.
NEWCASTLE TEAM NEWS
Rafa Benitez appears to have found a settled side during pre-season, having picked the same starting XI for the Magpies’ last two friendlies.
The manager is unlikely to deviate much from that set-up and will stick with his favoured starters for Newcastle’s first game back in the top flight after an absence of one year.
Aleksandar Mitrovic will start up front, while new signing Florian Lejeune will continue deputising for club captain Jamaal Lascelles in the centre of defence.
BEST OPTA MATCH FACTS
Harry Kane is one goal away from a century for Spurs in all competitions – he has netted 99 goals in 165 games so far, including hat-tricks in his two previous appearances.
Kane has scored 20 goals in his last 15 Premier League games against newly-promoted sides – three of his six top-flight hat-tricks have been against newly-promoted teams (Leicester in 2014-15, Bournemouth in 2015-16 and Hull last season).
This is the seventh successive Premier League season that Tottenham will play their opening Premier League game away from home.
TV COVERAGE & KICK-OFF TIME
The match is being televised live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event in the UK and kicks off at 13:30 BST.