After a thrilling defensive display against Manchester City, José Mourinho’s men are back under European lights, to face the Bulgarian champions PFC Ludogorets Razgrad. The squad is currently in a good place in terms of form and morale.
However, it’s usually during the highest of highs, where an air of complacency tends to creep in. Nonetheless, despite facing a comparatively less challenging outfit in Ludogorets, the intensity levels shouldn’t drop.
This season, Tottenham have already witnessed what underestimating an unfamiliar European side can do. Having already lost 1-0 to Royal Antwerp, it’s safe to say that the defeat was an eye-opener to each and every member of the squad, including the manager himself. And so, even if Mourinho intends to rotate the squad, he will be aware that the XI he chooses will have to be up for the challenge.
The UEFA Europa League is a competition that the Portuguese and his players want to progress deep into. After going through two Qualifying Rounds and one Playoff Round, the North Londoners made it to the group stages. The additional fixture-load proved to be a telling lesson to not only the players, but also to the fans, that these sides aren’t supposed to be underestimated.
Regardless, barring that blip against Antwerp, Mourinho should be pleased with how Spurs have performed so far. However, the loss in Belgium does add an additional need to focus on the closing stages of the group.
Ideally, with the Premier League handing a merciless fixture overload in the festival periods, José would’ve wanted to wrap up Group J a bit sooner. It would have also paved the way for some of the youngsters to be involved. Jack Clarke, Dennis Cirkin, and Jamie Bowden are amongst the many who are dying to be involved on the European stage.
A look at PFC Ludogorets Razgrad
Spurs already made the trip to Bulgaria in match-day three, winning 3-1 courtesy of goals from Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, and Giovani Lo Celso. It was a dominant performance from most of the main squad, but after seeing how the game panned out in the first half, Kane and Moussa Sissoko were taken off at the interval.
The visitors travel to London intending to break their duck in Group J. Having lost all three of their games so far, manager Stanislav Genchev will be aware that to have any hope of progressing, a win is a must. Despite topping the Bulgarian league, Ludogorets are struggling to repeat the same form in Europe.
Even though they have scored five times, the second-highest in the group after Spurs (6), their leaky defence can be cited as the chief source of unreliability. The Eagles have conceded nine goals, three more than third-placed LASK Linz.
With Tottenham, Antwerp, and LASK caught in a three-way tie of six points, the Bulgarian outfit will have to hope for some results to go their way.
They come into this game after a commanding 3-0 win over CSKA 1948 before the international break. Meaning their first-game post-break will be a visit to North London, so perhaps an element of rustiness can be expected from the visitors.
But on the flip-side, they will be less fatigued than Spurs, who just played out a highly-demanding encounter against Man City. Genchev might see their situation in the group as an opportunity to not hold his team back, which could go either way.
Unfortunately, much to the disappointment of Genchev, his squad is currently facing the ravages of the pandemic. Ludogorets will be in London with a fairly depleted side and will miss several crucial players for the clash with Spurs.
One man’s despair is another man’s opportunity. So this unforeseen issue for the visitors might present Mourinho the chance to rest a few more players.
What to expect from Spurs?
Firstly, rotation. Mourinho and his coaching staff are in a place where they must have an eye on both the domestic & European schedule.
They must take advantage of playing against lesser opposition, as Kane and Son are expected to start from the bench. With eyes on Lucas, Carlos Vinicius, and Gareth Bale to get the job done.
However, the area of interest will not be on how the attack and midfield are rotated. Instead, all eyes will be on how the backline is setup. With Toby Alderweireld picking up a groin problem against City, Mourinho will have to be careful with his handling of Eric Dier.
The Englishman played 90 minutes against both Belgium and Iceland, before starting for Spurs against Guardiola’s side. Any more overloading could be risky, so its likely we will see a centre-back pairing of Ben Davies and Davinson Sanchez. Furthermore, Matt Doherty has returned to training after isolation, so Serge Aurier is likely to be rotated after a fantastic performance in the high-octane City game.
Harry Winks picked up a slight niggle in the break, but has returned to training, so he looks set to feature. Also, a rare opportunity might open for Dele Alli to start in his favorable #10 position if the manager decides upon giving the 24-year-old another chance.
Giovani Lo Celso will be eager to add to his account after scoring vs City and Ludogorets before the break. Erik Lamela, who was working on a minor problem with his foot, is in the final phase of his recovery.
Expected lineup: Hart, Doherty, Tanganga, Sanchez, Davies, Winks, Sissoko, Lo Celso, Lucas, Vinicius, Bale. (4-2-3-1)
Irrespective of who starts, the fans will be expecting Spurs to come out with three points. Obviously, the Europa League games are a great way for fringe players to show how they’ve been developing in training. However, despite a gruelling trip to Stamford Bridge at the weekend, it won’t be a surprise if Mourinho still opts to play certain key players on Thursday.
Interestingly, the Lilywhites still haven’t figured out a way to enhance calmness and stability in the midfield without the presence of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. And since the squad has only one such profile, the Dane is likely to start and only have a brief cameo.
With the mood around Spurs’ camp being filled with optimism and confidence, the players will hope to top Group J after this round of fixtures. Mourinho will be grateful that they are playing at home too, as that rules out any extra travelling for his squad.
A performance similar to the one at the Ludogorets Arena would be sufficient to win the game. The fans will be hoping to see their side pick up all three points before heading to Stamford Bridge for a feisty London Derby.