I love European football. Mid-week encounters, the glitz and glamour that evening games bring and the best players on show to the watching world. Perhaps more importantly; seeing all of this at White Hart Lane. Tottenham Hotspur may have finished fourth in the Premier League and had it not been for Chelsea’s historic win in Munich, the club would’ve taken part in the Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
As it is, a spot in the Europa League is the best that Spurs could settle for. Granted, it isn’t Europe’s elite competition, but it’s Europe nevertheless. In years gone past, the club haven’t taken the competition all too seriously. Harry Redknapp used the group stages to field a largely inexperienced side in order to give fringe players and academy prospects first-team football.
Not this year, however. Andre Villas-Boas is at the helm and with it; the chance to land some European Glory. The 34-year-old has a history with the competition, having lifted the trophy in 2011 following an unbeaten season with FC Porto during his sole campaign with the Portuguese outfit. The Spurs head-coach has now insisted he is going to take the competition seriously as he looks to end the club’s hunt for European silverware, the last being the UEFA Cup in 1984.
Fortunately, this will mean a number of first-team fringe players will be handed the chance to impress. Those that started on the bench against Reading, Clint Dempsey, Hugo Lloris, Andros Townsend and Steven Caulker to name four, are likely to begin the encounter with Lazio as Spurs look to kick off Group H with a win.
The Serie A giants won’t be a pushover, however. The Biancocelesti have started the season in blistering form, winning all three of their opening games this season. Lazio also possess the players to cause Spurs’ backline problems through the likes of Hernanes, Mauro Zarate and reported summer target Miroslav Klose.
If Villas-Boas was hoping for an easy encounter against the Italians, then he is going to be in for a long evening. It is absolutely pivotal that, if he is to win the Europa League, to field a strong squad. The aforementioned quartet are all likely to start, Lloris especially is in line to make his debut. Tom Huddlestone, Kyle Walker, Michael Dawson and, following an injury to Emmanuel Adebayor, Jermain Defoe are likely to feature on the team sheet.
All of those mentioned are good enough to see Spurs pick up three vital points, regardless of the likes of Klose and Hernanes. Stifling the threat of the duo will ensure that Lazio are unable to really flex their creative muscles, aiding in landing an important first clean sheet of the season.
Unsurprisingly, White Hart Lane is likely to be at its loudest for the welcome of Lazio, with fans of the Serie A side expected to bring their singing voices with them from Italy. Spurs, however, should have enough to overcome their Italian counterparts and following the 3-1 win over Reading on Sunday, I’m predicting a 2-1 win for the hosts.
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