Match day three in the Europa League sees a tricky trip to Slovenia for NK Maribor vs Spurs.
This will be a test in a small ground where the fanatical home support are close to the pitch and cheer on a side that are very attack minded.
The Slovenians sit above us in Group J and we really need to come away with something from this fixture with Lazio toping the table on four points.
The team news isn’t good, as Andre Villas-Boas will be without Gareth Bale, Moussa Dembele, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Emmanuel Adebayor, who all haven’t travelled.
So what can we expect from the side who are running away with their domestic league? Here are my 5 keys to NK Maribor vs Spurs.
1. Spurs vs Maribor Pressing
Maribor vs Spurs should be a very interesting game between two teams that apply pressure up the field. We have become more competent with the pressing game deployed from the front this season, but Maribor are a team that likes to create turnovers and quick transitions as well.
Against Lazio, the Slovenians went down 1-0, but generated 16 interceptions, which included 6 in the opposition half as they pushed up.
On Match day one, they played brilliantly at home to Panathinaikos and were all over the Greeks, fuelled on by their passionate support. They had the majority of possession, but still were looking to win it back in the opposition half or just inside their own.
At home once again, we will have to be wary of Maribor looking to press up the field and getting the crowd in to the game by forcing us to turnover possession easily.
2. Creating chances from long balls
As a result of their pressing up the field, NK Maribor have been susceptible to the long ball for runners in-behind.
Panathinaikos didn’t do much against us, or Maribor, but they did create a chance from a ball played in behind the Slovenians’ defence.
Lazio gave them more of a game and were much more successful with longer diagonals and a ball from wide in behind. The Italian’s goal came from one such ball over the top and as Sergio Floccari’s shot from the initial pass was saved, Honorato Ederson pounced to put in the rebound.
While Jermain Defoe might not be able to compete with balls pumped forward to him, he does have the pace to get in behind for balls over the top and played through. Maribor also have trouble at centre back without the suspended Jovan Voldovic, so could be vulnerable in this area.
3. Tavares, Ibrahimi and Beric
Maribor have three dangerous players from an attacking perspective and they come in the form of Marcos Tavares, Agim Ibrahimi and Robert Beric.
Maribor play in an attack minded 4-4-2 with Ibrahimi playing in from the right and Tavares dropping off of Beric upfront.
Agim Ibrahimi is the danger man from wide and Maribor like to move the ball out to him at every opportunity.
He has taken four shots per game so far in the Europa League, as he enjoys a strike from distance, whether it is a shot cutting inside from the right or a free kick. He is also a danger to switch out to the left side of the formation, as his goal against Panathinaikos highlighted.
Marcos Tavares plays as a support striker to Robert Beric in more of a number ten role despite wearing the number nine. The Argentinean has created 5 chances for Maribor in their two Europa League matches, whilst also taking 5 shots and scoring a goal.
He is a busy player who looks for the ball between the lines and then to shoot or thread it through for his teammates. His slid through pass for Robert Beric against Panathinaikos was a perfect example of this.
Robert Beric is the more natural number nine and always looking to get on the end of through passes. He plays on the shoulder of the last defender and is frequently caught offside, but is always a threat to get in behind. He will be the one to profit from the passing of Marcos Tavares and Goran Cvijanovic.
4. The creativity of Goran Cvijanovic
While Beric, Tavares and Ibrahimi are the attacking threat, Goran Cvijanovic pulls the strings from deeper in midfield. Only defensive midfielder Ales Mertelj sees more of the ball than the Slovenian international, but nobody creates more chances than Cvijanovic.
He likes to play in the pockets between defence and midfield and is always available to receive the ball back inside from the wide players.
When in possession he likes to keep the ball moving left and right when deep, but when he gets up the field, he is looking to put the ball in for the attackers with diagonal passes.
Maribor vs Spurs will see Beric, Tavares and Ibrahimi as the threats to score the Slovenians’ goals; Cvijanovic is always looking to create them.
5. Spurs vs Maribor dribbling
Maribor are a team that likes to dribble with the ball no matter who are the opposition. They attempted 24 against Lazio and 20 versus Panathinaikos, but were successful with just 8 of these 44 efforts.
They are dangerous in wide areas though, with full backs Ales Mejac and Martin Milec attempting the most take-ons in their Europa League campaign so far.
Both Lazio and Panathinaikos were effective at stopping Maribor from doing this, but Spurs need to recognise that this will be a target area for the Slovenians.
Maribor vs Spurs outlook
Spurs will be confident, but will need to quieten a raucous Maribor crowd that are close to the pitch and will generate a lot of noise, especially if their team gets on top.
They will be looking to press us early and really have nothing to lose seeing as Lazio and us are expected to go through in the group.
Spurs will need to be wary of Goran Cvijanovic pulling the strings in the Maribor midfield. Agim Ibrahimi will be looking to cut in and shoot from the right, whilst Marcos Tavares is dropping off between the lines.
Robert Beric doesn’t offer much apart from looking to play off the shoulder of the last defender. If selected in our back four, Michael Dawson won’t want to see a repeat of our Panathinaikos 1 Spurs 1 match, where he was beaten for pace to a through ball by Toche .
It will be a tough game without Bale, Adebayor, Dembele and Assou-Ekotto. Although I’m hopeful we can hit them on the counter and if Jermain Defoe is in form we could win by a couple, i honestly think it’ll end in a draw.