By Greg Stobart
It was the question Andre Villas-Boas was asked incessantly last season. Are Tottenham a one-man team? Could you cope without Gareth Bale?
Now the north London club have to find the answer. So many times last season Bale would earn Spurs vital points with a stroke of genius, often late on in games as he almost dragged the team to a top-four finish.
Following the Welshman’s world-record £86 million move to Real Madrid, Tottenham can no longer use their get out of jail free card, can no longer afford to rely on the ‘give it to Gareth’ tactic.
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Seven internationals have arrived at White Hart Lane during a summer window in which they broke their transfer record three times.
Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Paulinho, Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue and Vlad Chiriches will have to settle quickly if Spurs are to achieve a top-four finish - but they have a far stronger squad than last season, regardless of Bale’s departure.
The onus will be on Soldado to replace Bale’s 21 league goals last season and the Spanish striker has started well in London, scoring from the penalty spot against both Crystal Palace and Swansea.
But the fact that in their three games so far this season Tottenham have yet to score from open play indicates the need to provide Soldado with service. The 28-year-old scored all 24 of his La Liga goals for Valencia last term from inside the penalty area and is not the kind of player who will create something out of nothing.
Soldado needs team-mates who can pick him out in the box, and that is why the signings of Eriksen and Lamela will be so crucial to Tottenham this season.
Villas-Boas boasts one of the most powerful and solid central midfields in the league in the form of Paulinho, Capoue, Sandro and Dembele, but to open up opponents - especially at home - he will turn to Eriksen or Lewis Holtby as a central playmaker.
Eriksen established a reputation for moments of brilliance but also a tendency to drift in and out of games. His record, however, of 13 goals and 23 assists in all competitions for Ajax last season points to a player who can make a difference in the final third.
Spurs will look to get Eriksen in between the lines, providing ammunition for Soldado and linking up with Lamela, who will take up the role on the right that was originally planned for Bale in Villas-Boas’ 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 system.
Lamela, the left-footed Argentine star, will be expected to provide the stardust because even though he lacks the explosive physical power of Bale, he has the natural ability to destroy defenders.
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Lamela has a habit of looking to bend the ball into the far corner in a manner that scouts have compared to Robin van Persie in his early days, while the 21-year-old is also comfortable drifting in to a traditional No.10 position.
He will try to dribble at defenders, disrupting their organisation and also creating room for right-back Kyle Walker to overlap and deliver crosses for Soldado.
On the other flank, Andros Townsend can provide natural width and early crosses, although Villas-Boas may opt to play either Chadli or Eriksen in this role as inverted wingers.
The problem then, however, would be a lack of natural width and a reliance on two full-backs who have great stamina but are unreliable on the ball in the final third and have significant defensive deficiencies.
With Bale gone, other players will have to take more responsibility and there is a strong argument to say that, on paper at least, Tottenham are in a better position to launch a challenge than they were last season and even a spate of injuries need not spell disaster.
Paulinho will provide goals from midfield with his box-to-box drive but the key for Spurs will be how their new attacking triumvirate of Soldado, Lamela and Eriksen can combine.
Between the three of them, they should have the eye for a pass, dribbling ability and ruthlessness in front of goal to compensate for the loss of the most expensive footballer in history.