Tottenham Hotspur: 3 Key Matchups for Spurs' Europa League Tie with FC Basel
When Friday's draw for the Europa League quarterfinals pit Tottenham against Swiss champions FC Basel, manager Andre Villas-Boas was quick to show respect to his opponents.
The Portuguese manager, fresh off his side's thrilling victory over Inter Milan in extra time of their Round of 16 tie, told Spurs' official website that "it's a difficult draw," quickly pointing out the Swiss side's recent success in Europe and victories over Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
Throughout the season, Villas-Boas has been keen on pointing out how his side's run in this season's Europa League is a warm-up for the challenges it would face should they be playing Champions League football next year.
Hence, the manager's comments about the difficult nature of this tie begs the question: Just how important is this tie for Tottenham? Is this side capable of overcoming this tricky Basel club?
With just under three weeks before the first leg of this tie at White Hart Lane, Spurs supporters are no doubt dwelling on these questions in anticipation of their club's opportunity at European glory.
Now, while it is difficult to talk too in-depth about matches that are weeks away, one can still get a general feeling about what might be worth watching for.
Thus, here is a very early look at three key matchups to look for in Tottenham's Europa League quarterfinal tie with FC Basel.
Frei and Streller vs. Tottenham Defense
Easily the scariest part of Basel's side for Tottenham fans is their striking partnership of Marco Streller and Alexander Frei.
Streller, the captain of the Swiss side, has four goals in this season's Europa League, putting him even with Spurs' Jermain Defoe for sixth highest in the competition.
Meanwhile, Frei is a legend for his club and country, with an incredible 72 goals in 101 appearances for the club since 2009 and 42 in 84 for his country. Further, he was key in Basel's deep run in last season's Champions League.
The Swiss striker hasn't been starting every Europa League match, but he has still been finding ways to contribute, even getting what turned out to be the winning goal in the club's Round of 16 tie with Zenit St. Petersburg when he scored off the bench in stoppage time at the end of the first leg.
To make matters worse for Tottenham, Basel's backup, Egypt's Mohamed Salah, is a 20-year-old with a lot of upside.
Should Spurs hope to find a way past Basel in this tie, it will certainly need to defend better than it did in the second leg of their tie against Inter Milan, when the marking was as atrocious as the scoreline reflected.
After all, Basel's striking unit will not allow them to get away with it.
There is no questioning that Tottenham has been at its finest when it has been able to boss the game from the middle of the park.
Players like Dembele, Sandro and recently Scott Parker have contributed to this, winning balls, holding the ball up and distributing forward to create chances.
For Basel, the core of their midfield has been struck with some problems.
A year ago, the Swiss club's central midfield pairing was Granit Xhaka and Benjamin Huggel, both of whom have since left the club.
Meanwhile, at the very end of the first half of Basel's second leg with Zenit, key central midfielder Marcelo Diaz received his second yellow card and was sent off, making him ineligible for at least the first leg of the quarterfinal tie with Spurs.
With Diaz out, the Swiss club will likely have to turn to the 31-year-old Ivorian Gilles Yapi Yapo, who has made just one appearance in this season's Europa League, and the 24-year-old Cape Verdean Cabral in the center of the midfield.
Those two will have to play quite well in order to prevent Parker from constantly winning possession and nullify Dembele's attacking threat.
Basel Defense vs Spurs Striking in Switzerland
In each of its' first two knockout-phase ties of this season's Europa League, Tottenham have needed late away goals in the second leg to secure its' place in the next round.
In the Round of 32, it was Mousa Dembele delivering a 90th minute strike to turn a loss into a win for Spurs, while it was Emmanuel Adebayor's goal in extra time at the San Siro Thursday that won it its place in the quarterfinals.
Unfortunately, Basel haven't been too keen on conceding away goals this season.
The Swiss club are on a ridiculous run at the moment, as it has not conceded a goal at its home, St. Jakob-Park, since late October. That's a streak that spans across 10 matches and just over 840 minutes of play.
Not coincidentally, new manager Murat Yakin, who previously played center back for both Basel and Switzerland, took over the club on October 15, setting the stage for this string of strong home performances.
With the first leg at White Hart Lane, Tottenham must not look to rely on getting a huge result in Basel given this incredible run.
Should they have to, though, the question will become whether Gareth Bale and the rest of Spurs' attack can break down the virtually impenetrable fortress that Basel has created.
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