Dnipro – Tottenham (Europa League)
Tottenham travel to Ukraine for what is bound to be an extremely difficult first leg of Europa League last 32. The Spurs must beware the cold in the east and the spite of an aggrieved former manager. Pack the thermals and brace yourselves for revenge.
Dnipro haven’t played an official match in two months, the Ukrainian League being in it’s mid-season break. Reports say it’s sunny in Dnipropetrovsk at the moment. Sunny and absolutely freezing. Still it’s the best you can hope for, this is a mild winter day looks like out there. The positive point is they are rested and have no injuries to worry about. The competitive edge of the squad may be slightly dull, though. But the stage of the competition is more than enough to motivate them. And then there is Juande Ramos and the huge chip on his shoulder. The Spaniard managed the Spurs between 2007 and 2008, leading them to a Capital One Cup title before being sacked the following season for dragging the club to the bottom of the Premier League table. He came public slamming his tenure at White Hart Lane, blaming boss Levy for clueless decisions and the players for unprofessional behaviour.
Dnipro’s season has been a good one. They occupy the 5th place of their domestic League with 34 points, 1 behind Metalist and Chornomorets, but two games shorter than the later. In Europa League’s Group E they came up second to Fiorentina, beating all opposition except for the Italians.
Probable line-up: Denys Boyco – Artem Fedetskiy, Ondrej Mazuch, Evgen Cheberyachko, Ivan Strinic – Jaba Kankava, Ruslan Rotan – Bruno Gama, Nikola Kalinic, Yevheniy Konoplyanka – Roman Zozulya.
Since Tim Sherwood took over at White Hart Lane Spurs are a resurging team. They have lost only one of their last 10 League fixtures (won 7, draw 2) and are now fifth with 50 points, 3 adrift forth seed Liverpool. The rewarding 4th place that allows entrance to the Champions League club next season remains at their grasp.
André Villas-Boas took the European’s competition very serious. Last year he lead Tottenham to the Quarter-finals of the Europa League – where they lost to Basel in a 4-4 aggregate – and this run up he made sure they would count for wins all of their group stage ties. Now it’s Sherwood’s moment to début in Europe and he seems thrilled with the prospect. He is aware that with the schedule piling up he will have to rotate the squad but he is convinced Spurs have enough depth to deal with the load.
In the spirit of rotation Brad Friedel and Roberto Soldado could be given a spot in the starting XI. But so much of Tottenham’s and Sherwood’s recent success is due to Hugo Lloris and Emmanuel Adebayor’s appearances one wonders if he will risk having both “lucky charms” on the sidelines.
The manager has a couple of fitness concerns prior to the match. Sandro and Sigurdsson are still doubtful, forward Eric Lamela and defender Vlad Chiriches are ruled out.
Probable line-up: Lloris – Naughton, Dawson, Vertonghen, Rose – Capoue, Sandro – Townsend, Paulinho, Chadli – Soldado.
Already out of the domestic cups Spurs are determined to secure the ticket for next season’s Champions League. But the European window is an excellent motivation for young players and a manager that is looking to build a name for himself. Specially if it is against sour former gaffer that is trash-talking their club and organization.