Spurs kick off their Europa League campaign Thursday night at home to Lazio as European football once again returns to the Lane.
Andre Villas-Boas lifted the trophy two seasons ago with Porto and now takes our Tottenham troops in to battle some of Europe’s top teams.
Panathinaikos, Maribor and Lazio are all on the menu in the group stage, but how will Spurs fare?
I sat down with some of my favourite Spurs bloggers to get their views on the Europa League, how Spurs should approach the competition and how they think we’ll go?
Giving me their expert opinions were:
What’s your most memorable Spurs Europa League or UEFA Cup moment?
Windy: Sadly the penalty defeat to PSV – Berbatov’s superb goal took it to extra time, but Jenas and Chimbonda blew it with awful penalties
Chris: As a fan who is not old enough to have been around for the glory days of Spurs Europa League / UEFA Cup football, I have to say my most memorable moment was watching Steed Malbranque slice the ball into his own net in the 2nd leg of the 2006-07 Quarter Final against Sevilla. Depressing I know, but after winning every game in our group, getting a bye through the last 32 (much to the annoyance of Arsenal ‘mates’ who thought we were having it easy) and beating Braga both home and away, the expectation was rising. Could we actually do this? The first leg of the Quarter Final didn’t go well, but despite being 2-1 down, the belief that we could beat them at the lane was still there… that is until Malbranque sliced a corner into our goal on the 3rd minute and Kanoute twisted the knife with another goal four minutes later.
Kenny: The 1984 UEFA Cup Final 2nd leg final the Lane with the penalty shoot out taking place in front of the Paxton Road is still the most memorable moment. With the score 4-3 to us on penalties Danny Thomas missed the chance to win it for us when his shot when over the bar but memorably young Tony Parks saved the next penalty from Anderlecht’s Gudjohnsen cementing his place in Tottenham folklore and ending Tottenham’s best manager, since Bill Nicholson, Keith Burkinshaw’s great career with a trophy.
Sam: I would love to be able to say the ’84 win, but that unfortunately came a bit too soon for me. I’ll always remember Aaron Lennon’s equaliser against Sevilla at home in the UEFA Cup Quarter Final of the 2006-07 season. We were out of it for an hour, but as soon as we drew level, it was an amazing feeling– almost like the realisation suddenly hit everyone we were one goal away from reaching a European semi-final. There was something very unique about that.
How should we approach this season’s competition?
Windy: I think AVB will go hell for leather at all competitions, rotating appropriately. It’ll be a stronger side than last year, but there will be more general rotation throughout the season. I’d like to see one or two of the younger lads on the bench to bring on should we be comfortable in matches, and for the experience of just being at one of these occasions.
Chris: I don’t necessarily agree with how the Europa League is run. There are too many games, the fact that Champions League teams drop into it completely devalues the competition, and the prize money compared to the effort it takes to win the thing is a joke. If the winner were given a place in the Champions League, it would be a genuinely important competition that every team that entered would go all out to win. As it stands, it saps the energy levels of the squad and has a detrimental effect on league performance. That said, nothing can quite match a European night at the Lane, and what’s the point in being in a competition if not to win it?
Kenny: We should adopt the policy of we’re in it to win it! Andre Villas-Boas has encouragingly intimated that he is going to take the competition seriously and field a strong side. It is also an opportunity to rotate the squad and give game time to members of the squad keeping them involved and motivated.
Sam: I think that we should definitely be giving it a real shot, albeit sensibly, at winning the thing. The group stage needs to be managed carefully and Villas-Boas will need to be mindful of maintaining league momentum; sending our full-strength side out at home to Maribor, for example, would perhaps be verging on the overzealous. But we’ve got the squad to negotiate out of the group stage and past then, we should be looking to treat it with the respect needed to win it. As Danny Blanchflower said, the game is about glory – why turn our nose up at the thought of bringing a piece of European silverware back to White Hart Lane?
How far do you see Spurs progressing?
Windy: I think we will make the semis.
Chris: AVB likes the competition and will take it seriously. We have a good squad; one of the best in the competition and our quick foray into Champions League football has shown that we can beat the best. Semi Finals at least.
Kenny: The team is strong enough to progress pass the group stage and if we avoid any of the elite teams who have been knocked out of the Champions league (a rule which devalues the Europa League) we are good enough to reach the finals!
Sam: Providing Andre Villas-Boas can maintain the efforts on the league front, which I think he will, I can genuinely see Spurs getting to the semi-finals at least. AVB has been there and done it in the Europa League and I believe he will genuinely feel he can do it again with this Spurs squad; which on paper is more than capable. There are already some very accomplished teams in the competition and we could face a potential booby-trap if we end up drawing one of the ousted Champions League teams in the knockout round. But a run to the semis is my prediction – maybe more with a bit of luck.
What do you see as being our toughest match in the group stage?
Windy: Lazio away is massive.
Chris: Well, we have the winners of the mighty Slovenian league currently eight unbeaten games into their season, last years 4th placed Italian team also currently unbeaten 3 games in and last years 2nd place team from the Greek league who are having a bit of a Tottenham-esq start to the season. I don’t think we’ll have a problem topping the group but Lazio will put up the biggest fight.
Kenny: Our double header with Lazio who have started the season Serie A season unbeaten winning all 3 of their games will be our toughest opponent assuming they take the competition seriously and field a strong team.
Sam: It’s hard to look past Lazio away on November 22nd. It’s a walking cliché but winning away from home in Europe is an art in itself anyway, let alone a trip to play in Rome and the Stadio Olimpico. They might not be the force that they once were a decade or so ago, but under Edy Reja’s stewardship, they’ve been somewhat resurgent; the Biancocelesti finished fourth in Serie A last term. Now under the management of Vladimir Petković, we’ve all seen how hard English teams have found it playing in Italy over the last few years – coming home unscathed with a point in what is a highly volatile arena, would be a good result.
Which current squad member would you like to see get a run in the Europa League and why?
Windy: Huddlestone. It’s slightly slower football in European competitions (generally speaking), and he is an intelligent possession player who suits it well.
Chris: Stephen Caulker. On loan at Swansea last season, their fans rave about him and after rising up through our academy, some people are bigging him up as the next Ledley King. He seems unlikely to get a game in the league with Vertonghen, Gallas, Kaboul and Dawson seemingly ahead of him so it falls to the Europa League for us to see if the hype is justified.
Kenny: Michael Dawson the club captain who has been treated somewhat shabbily since the new management team has come in and whom the club seemed to want to sell with indecent haste deserves a run out. William Gallas performances have been less than convincing and a fully fit “Daws” is still one of the best English Centre Half’s in the premier league and can contribute to the team.
Sam: Tom Carroll. Andre Villas-Boas new set-up revolves around an ethos of dictating and controlling the tempo and I think Carroll has the sort of skill set that is suited to the Portuguese’s new tactical make up. He could thrive playing alongside the likes of Dembele, Sandro and Sigurdsson; especially if AVB wheels out the 4-3-3 at some point during the competition.
Who’s your tip to be holding the trophy in May?
Windy: Going to be obvious and go for the favourites – Atletico Madrid.
Chris: If I were to put money on it, for the sake of a decent return, Marseille are potential dark horses. On loan scum bag Joey Barton to then drop the trophy on his foot and be forced to retire from football.
Kenny: If Tottenham field a strong team throughout the tournament I’m confident we’ll be lifting the trophy
Sam: I honestly do believe we’ve got a good chance of seeing (insert your new long-term Spurs captain name’s here) lift the trophy in Amsterdam, but I’m putting my money on Inter Milan. It’s easy to go with the marquee name and again, Andrea Stramaccioni’s side aren’t as strong as they once were. But they’ve still got real quality in the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Esteban Cambiasso and Ricardo Alvarez and both the pedigree and experience to win it.
Carlo Cudicini and more famously Gazza have represented both Spurs and Lazio. Which current Lazio player should we be most weary of in Thursday night’s opener?
Windy: I don’t actually like Klose that much as a player, but his record in big games is superb. He’s bound to cause us problems.
Chris: Hernanes. A skilled playmaker with a decent shot on him. The Spurs defence and whoever plays in goal for us will need to be weary of his ability and willingness to take long shots whenever he can. Continue to fanny around and panic around the penalty area as we have been doing a bit and he will work himself some space and have a crack.
Kenny: The prolific striker and rumoured Spurs transfer target Miroslav Klose will pose the biggest threat to Spurs he has started the season well with 4 goals in all competitions.
Sam: Lazio behold some real quality in the ranks and the likes of Hernanes and ex-Birmingham City loanee Mauro Zarate will offer a more than thorough examination of Villas-Boas’ new look side. But you can’t look past the evergreen Miroslav Klose. He may now be 34, but he’s already notched up three goals this season; he’ll offer a real test for a promising, yet developing Tottenham defensive set-up.
Spurs vs Lazio score prediction?
Windy: 2-1 to the Lilywhites.
Chris: Lloris will keep a clean sheet. 2-0 Spurs.
Kenny: The team will be confident after the impressive win and performance against Reading and looking to build some momentum 3 – 1 to Spurs.
Sam: A Spurs victory, but I can’t see us keeping a clean sheet on this one. 2-1 victory, keeping the Villas-Boas revolution ticking over nicely.
I’d like to thank the guys for taking time out to chat with me and if you don’t already, you can follow Windy (@WindyCOYS), Chris (@tottenblog), Kenny (@KennyPalmer) and Sam (@Samuel_Antrobus) on Twitter.