Europa League: How Tottenham Should Line Up Against Inter Milan at the San Siro
Tottenham Hotspur head to the San Siro on Thursday evening to take on Internazionale in the return leg of their Europa League Round of 16. As comfortable as their 3-0 home win was, Tottenham know it is not a fixture to take lightly.
Inter Milan are not as strong as when the two clubs met in 2010 (although they were beginning to slip). But any side capable of beating Juventus 3-1 on their home turf, as they did in November, have it in them to cause some problems. Especially in the intimidating atmosphere of the San Siro.
Andre Villas-Boas has a few things to consider for the game—not least of which is how he will set his side up without the suspended Gareth Bale. This issue and others are covered now in a look at how Spurs should line up against Inter as they seek to progress to the quarterfinals.
The Concentration Game
Brad Friedel will almost certainly come in for Hugo Lloris in goal. Spurs' second-choice goalkeeper has also become Villas-Boas' man for the cups. Should they progress into the next round, there might be an interesting conversation or two ahead if Lloris sniffs the chance of a final in May.
Going by how the defense has been set up in the last three Europa League games, it seems likely William Gallas will line up alongside Jan Vertonghen in central defense, with Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto at full-back. There has been little reason why this should be changed right now.
Although Villas-Boas has given the nod to Michael Dawson in defense for league duties, he has selected Gallas for European outings. It is a strong show of faith in the Frenchman. Despite some iffy showings earlier in the season that exposed his susceptibility to lapses in concentration over a sustained run of games, Gallas is still judged by his manager to be reliable in one or two-match appearances. So far the 35-year-old has repaid Villas-Boas' trust, generally working well with Vertonghen in keeping things reasonably tight in defense.
Gallas has shone at the San Siro before. There was little he could do when Spurs lost to Inter in the stadium in the Champions League in 2010, but a few months later against AC Milan he became disciplined and motivated alongside Dawson in keeping a superb clean sheet.
Inter might not have posed much of a threat in the first leg, but the likes of Rodrigo Palacio and Antonio Cassano are still players to be wary of. If Gallas can play as well he did back against the Rossoneri in 2011, Spurs will stand a strong chance of leaving Milan happy.
After his costly mistake at Anfield on Sunday, Walker will be desperate to keep things simple against Inter. Though such errors can leave a player on edge, the right-back will be keen to use it instead as motivation to get things right this time.
Ready for Battle and Ready to Attack
Much is made of Gareth Bale's hat-trick in a losing effort against Inter Milan in 2010. But Tottenham's best night in the San Siro came a few months later when they beat AC Milan 1-0, without the Welshman's services.
Bale's suspension for Thursday's game against Inter means Spurs must do without him again. Villas-Boas has a few options as to how he might set up his midfield and attack. If it is fairly safe to assume he will play one upfront—probably Jermain Defoe—it is not so clear who he will go with in midfield.
So long as he is deemed fit enough not to risk a recurrence of his injury, Aaron Lennon has to play. Even with a 3-0 lead, the last thing Spurs want to do is get pegged back at the San Siro. Without Bale, the team needs someone with a genuine semblance of pace, not only to ensure Defoe is not isolated, but also to give the defense a breather in such situations. Lennon will make the most of the spacious San Siro pitch in this regard.
Mousa Dembele and Scott Parker will likely, and should be, the central midfield pairing. It is imperative Tottenham do not let Inter get too much of a foothold in the game (especially if they are unable to extent their lead). This combative duo can be relied upon to give a good of stopping the Nerazzurri here.
It leaves two positions in midfield, one out left and one slightly advanced. This match is probably too soon for Clint Dempsey, so it is likely Gylfi Sigurdsson and Lewis Holtby will be the two here.
Had Bale been available it would probably have to have been Sigurdsson who made way. Just like how Harry Redknapp brought in Steven Pienaar for Niko Kranjcar out left in February 2011, Holtby is a more tenacious performer than Sigurdsson. Though it would be inadvisable for Spurs to sit back, it is important to have someone ready to pitch in defensively. Like Pienaar was, Holtby is grittier and more suitable for grafting in such a situation.
As it is, Sigurdsson's recent good performances mean he deserves a chance to play on a big occasion like this. Deployed in attacking midfield, he will be capable of dropping back when needed to, but he also has the eye for a pass that might set Defoe free.
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