Picking a Tottenham Hotspur Starting XI to Win the 2012-13 Europa League
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With Europa League matches less than two weeks away, many Tottenham fans have begun thinking how their Spurs will do this year.
Last year was a bitter disappointment as the North London side didn't even make it out of group play, only doing better than Irish Premier Division side Shamrock Rovers.
This season, they're up against stiff competition—Greek side Panathinaikos, Italian side Lazio and Slovenian side NK Maribor. None of these clubs should be taken lightly, not even little-known NK Maribor, who won the Slovenian Premier League last season.
Former manager Harry Redknapp had obvious disdain for the tournament last season, and it showed in his largely apathetic attitude after losses to clubs he should have beaten.
Now it's Andre Villas-Boas' turn and he'll need a strong side against strong competition. Who will that side be?
Join me as I present to you the starting roster that Tottenham can use to win the 2012-13 Europa League.
GK: Brad Friedel
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With the signing of Hugo Lloris during last month's transfer window, the goalkeeper is a no-brainer.
Brad Friedel is aging at 41 years old, but he's still playing at an incredibly high level. He's still outperforming guys a decade his junior and if Villas-Boas puts him between the posts for Europa League play, he's easily one of the best 'keepers in the entire tournament.
LB: Benoit Assou-Ekotto
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The only regular starter that I believe will be on Tottenham's defensive line for Europa matches, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, is more than capable of taking these non-league matches onto his plate.
He's a player of great endurance and provides more than just a speedy support at wing at left-back. Assou-Ekotto is incredibly skillful with the ball and is smart enough to know when to rest his legs and when to make one of his signature bursts up the left.
I'm excited to see how he does against some lesser competition.
CB: Steven Caulker
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I'd have rather seen the likes of William Gallas for Tottenham's Europa campaign, but with Ledley King's retirement and a four-month injury to Younes Kaboul, the 35-year-old Gallas is forced into starting duty for league matches for the first half of the 2012-13 season.
That all said, this isn't unfamiliar grounds for Caulker.
He's been a valuable asset for Spurs in non-league matches in the past and with his 6'3" frame, he's more than able to provide a strong presence at centre-back for this year's Europa campaign.
CB: Michael Dawson
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With Kaboul being injured and Tottenham's depth at centre-back being thin, Villas-Boas did the right thing in making a reversal on trying to offload Dawson to QPR and did everything in his power to keep him.
Dawson will see some mixed time with Gallas at centre-back for league matches, but he'll be forced into the starting lineup for non-league matches, starting firstly with Europa in a couple of weeks.
He's got great physicality and a good presence in the air—two things that will pay off against unfamiliar European clubs this fall.
RB: Kyle Naughton
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The position of right-back is a thin one, but starter Kyle Walker has a backup. Although he hasn't gotten much time on the pitch in league matches, Kyle Naughton is more than capable to fill in for Tottenham's Europa campaign.
Although just 23 years old, Naughton was a part of Sheffield United's youth system since the young age of seven. He's completed successful loan spells at Middlesbrough, Leicester City and, most recently, Norwich City, earning 32 appearances last season for the newly promoted Canaries.
It's his time to make regular appearances for Spurs, and Villas-Boas always values the opportunity to try out young talent in non-league matches.
LM: Andros Townsend
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Here's where I believe Villas-Boas uses the Europa to give a few youngsters some much-needed professional experience.
Townsend was given quite a bit of playing time in this summer's preseason, and I believe Villas-Boas likes the 21-year-old.
He's been loaned out to a handful of second- and third-tier English football clubs over his three-year career, but now is the time for Townsend to start taking hold of his future with Tottenham.
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In this summer's Olympics, he showed himself to be worthy of a starting spot with a top-flight club.
In the first three matches of Tottenham's season, he showed himself to be more than a capable centre midfielder.
With Scott Parker on the bench nursing an injury until October, Sandro will get the majority of time in the center of Villas-Boas' midfield—in league matches and Europa. When Parker comes back, he's the obvious replacement for centre midfielder in league matches, but Villas-Boas will want to keep him rested.
That means Sandro will get a lot of minutes against Europa competition—and that's good news for fans in North London.
Sandro is a gift of a player who was never truly valued by former manager Harry Redknapp. Villas-Boas has already shown more trust in the 23-year-old, giving him 125 out of a possible 180 minutes in Spurs' first three matches.
He'll excel in Europa as an intelligent player who knows when to support the attack and when to fall back on defense, and as a physical player who has the capabilities to both equally well.
RM: Aaron Lennon
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One of the few starters that I think will make the crossover into Tottenham's most important non-league set of matches—Aaron Lennon—has the pace and the ability to impress Villas-Boas so that he'll be given the go-ahead for Spurs' Europa matches.
And impress he will.
The 25-year-old's speed is rivaled by that of only Gareth Bale; he's as nimble as a mouse on the right sideline and his skill in flicking accurate crosses will catch lower-quality European sides unaware.
Whoever plays forward will be glad they've got Lennon in support.
AM: Gylfi Sigurdsson
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Villas-Boas wants so badly to revert back to his favored 4-3-3 position, but he just doesn't have the right players for it. Not this season at least.
The next best thing? Put in a 4-4-2 and give Gylfi Sigurdsson the green light to play the attacking midfield position.
With newcomer Moussa Dembele being favored for league matches, look for Sigurdsson to really impress during Tottenham's Europa campaign.
FW: Jermain Defoe
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I think Defoe has the most endurance and match capability of any Tottenham player, and Villas-Boas is going to put him to the grindstone.
He was lobbying all summer for some playing time and he'll get it this season. He's earned 40 or more appearances in six of his 11 seasons. This year will make it seven out of 12.
FW: Emmanuel Adebayor
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Shame that Harry Kane was loaned out to Norwich City. The 19-year-old could've grown a lot during Europa League play.
Instead, it'll have to be Emmanuel Adebayor taking up centre-forward duties.
It's between him and Moussa Dembele, and I think when it comes down to it, Villas-Boas will opt to use the former Fulham man for league matches and let Adebayor pile on the goals in Europa.