Summer signings show André Villas-Boas's side will be tougher to penetrate this season, with or without Gareth Bale
For Tottenham it seems there might just be life after Gareth Bale, whose likely departure for Real Madrid is perhaps best described now in a bespoke temporary Bale verb tense: a star turn who has for two months been on the verge of being about to probably leave. If this low-fi, closely fought, occasionally peppy 1-0 home defeat of Swansea is anything to go by, there are some promising early signs for the remodelled Spurs team André Villas-Boas has been energetically constructing this summer beyond the veil of Bale.
At the end of a slightly stodgy match decided by Andros Townsend's surge and Roberto Soldado's indolent penalty kick, Villas-Boas lingered by the halfway line, shook the basic quorum of opposition hands and hurried off down the tunnel looking not just pleased but even rather excited. Never mind that Swansea would have been good value for a draw on the day. By the end of a sweltering afternoon at White Hart Lane, as Paulinho continued to create – and miss – chances, and Townsend and Soldado left the field to rapturous receptions, there was a faint but tangible sense not just of departures but also of dawning possibilities for the home team.
As there should be too. While the close-season chunter has focused almost entirely on the winkling out of Bale, for Spurs this has, in fact, been a summer of arrivals. Here only four outfield players remained in the starting XI from the last home Premier League game, with Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Soldado and Etienne Capoue making their first home league starts (combined fees: £59m). If Townsend, back from his half-season loan a more confident Premier League player, was narrowly the star turn the new boys all had their moments.
Capoue, in particular, looks exactly the kind of physically commanding midfield touch player all Premier League clubs crave. Twice in the first half he feinted left and right before effectively giving up and just running straight through Jonathan De Guzmán. Already it seems clear Spurs will provide a more suffocating presence in midfield this year, Scott Parker's Davros-like wheeling and whirling replaced by a more natural athleticism and a greater physicality throughout the team.
Swansea were muted but still looked like a team who will prosper rather than struggle this season, even if it was their own headline midfield signing Jonjo Shelvey – who had a desperate match – who fouled Townsend to concede the penalty for the only goal. Soldado had spent the previous 57 minutes of his home debut doing a convincing impression of man expertly staying out of the way, but he finally broke into something approaching a run as he sidled up and slotted in the penalty with the easy precision of a man who knows it is his lot to do this kind of thing.
Spurs, the team of no penalties, have now had two in two league games. It would perhaps be unkind to link this to the absence of Bale, whose pre-emptive foul-avoidance gymnastics occasionally confuses referees. More likely this reflects the driving orthodox wing play of this Spurs team, with both Chadli and Townsend showing an inclination to attack their full-back on the outside.
Of the other new faces Chadli didn't have much of the ball but looked neat, confident and has a piano-shifter's muscles to go with his nifty feet. He is no Bale on the left but he will be a pleasure to watch. Soldado simply did what Soldado does before trudging off on 80 minutes to wild acclaim, shoulders dropping from his efforts, or rather effort.
Out-and-out strikers were declared extinct a few years back, but Soldado did pretty much nothing here but provide the decisive sting. You feel something odd will have to happen to stop him scoring 20 Premier League goals.
Paulinho also made an impression. If Spurs really are going to compete without Bale's goal-from-nowhere inspiration, the Brazilian looks the most obvious creative addition. He didn't have a great game – in fact, he missed three decent chances – but he looked like he might be capable of having one. For Spurs the future may not be Bale, but on this early season evidence it could yet be encouragingly perky.