Take away a team's best player, and it's often hard to pencil them in for a victory. Luckily for Tottenham, they don't need a victory on Thursday to advance to the knockout stage of the Europa League.
Spurs will be without Gareth Bale in a crucial match against Panathinaikos, with both qualification spots still on the line. But Tottenham only needs a tie to guarantee it will advance as the group's runner-up, and it's hard to imagine the squad losing this match.
André Villas-Boas, for one, feels confident in his team's ability to overcome the Bale injury (via James Riach of The Guardian):
"We've done excellently in this group phase. We have taken it very seriously. We are very proud in how we approach the competition and we want to go through."
On Bale's absence he said: "Gareth will be missed. I have excellent players. For example, [Clint] Dempsey did well on the left after Gareth got injured. He is a different type of player. He is not an out-and-out winger but it's a position he has played before. He did extremely well."
Beyond Dempsey, there is plenty of talent at Spurs to overcome Bale's absence. Mousa Dembélé is a maestro in the midfield. Gylfi Sigurdsson is perfectly capable of slotting into an attacking midfield role and threatening with his long-range efforts. Jermain Defoe has also been brilliant for Spurs this season, leading the team with nine goals in 15 appearances.
Not to mention, Tottenham comes into this match on a run of good form, with three victories and a tie in the team's last four games. During that time, Spurs have outscored their opponents 8-2.
That run of hot play couldn't have come too soon, as Spurs previously had lost four of five games. One of those losses saw them eliminated from the Capital One Cup against Norwich City, while the other three came in Premier League play (including a 5-2 shellacking against hated rivals Arsenal).
Which team wins?
But those dark days have past, and Spurs have rounded into form.
Anything less than a draw against Panathinaikos would be a bitter disappointment for Spurs with or without Bale, so I don't expect Tottenham to come out flat in this game. Look for Dempsey to provide a spark and timely goal, and Defoe to get loose himself.
Spurs will win this one, 2-0. And Bale will enjoy every second of it, I'm sure.
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