Tottenham Hotspur vs. Basel: Complete Europa League Preview
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Slumped and exhausted on the San Siro pitch, the Tottenham Hotspur players cut relieved figures after only narrowly avoiding exiting the Europa League. The plaudits they had earned from a terrific first-leg win over Inter Milan were gradually eroded in the return, their woeful display ranking among the worst European outings in the club's history.
What do you take from such a performance? For a start, Tottenham did enough to edge through on away goals, earning a quarterfinal meeting with FC Basel. Progress was the main aim, but inadvertently this team learned a little more about what it might take for them to succeed at this level (and higher).
"Our experience vs Inter will be good for us long term, it shows no advantage gives you safety," relayed Andre Villas-Boas in his pre-match press conference for this Thursday's game. "We learnt a lesson".
Basel will warrant the application of that lesson. The Swiss club might not match Inter's stature in the wider European game, but they are similarly capable of hurting a below-par Spurs.
They showed as much with their defeat of Zenit St Petersburg in the last round. The Russian club have not fared well on their travels on the continent this season, but still boast considerable talent. Basel struck late twice to see them off at St. Jakob-Park, and then did enough to hold out in the away leg.
With all this in mind, Murat Yakin's Swiss League table-toppers will not be taken lightly by Spurs.
Villas-Boas has not shied away from fielding strong sides throughout his team's run in this competition, and he is unlikely to deviate from that approach now. However, after the near-disaster against Inter, and with an important Premier League game against Everton following days after, he has some things to consider.
For Tottenham's games in the knockout stages, veteran performers like Brad Friedel and William Gallas have been given minutes ahead of league regulars Hugo Lloris and Michael Dawson. It fared well enough up to a point, but you could not help but wonder if the latter pair had played in that second leg in the San Siro, would their presence have meant for a more stable Spurs?
Though not as good as Inter at their best, Basel still have international-quality players like Marco Streller and Marcelo Diaz who are capable of causing Spurs problems.
With the prospect of a place in May's final more likely the closer they potentially get, Villas-Boas will be contemplating fielding his best possible team in the Europa League, alongside the ongoing demands of the league. By doing so, the North Londoners stand (theoretically) a better chance of avoiding the tension of their matches against Olympique Lyonnais and Inter.
The team's main players growing tired in the midst of so many big games does become an issue, perhaps in a way resting two or three for European games might not. It is a difficult balance one way or another. Spurs have shown they perform generally well following midweek fixtures, but tiredness can become a problem, no matter what Villas-Boas might say.
After missing the Swansea game through injury, Lloris is back in training ahead of Basel. Clint Dempsey is in contention again.
Villas-Boas also revealed on Wednesday he will be without the services of Jermain Defoe and Tom Carroll, with the former missing at least the next two games.
Basel are Tottenham's third quarterfinal opponent in Europe in the last decade. With so much attention on their league exploits, this fact has gone somewhat unnoticed.
A place in a major final is potentially four games away. Basel provide a solid test of how much Spurs want to make it to Amsterdam in May.
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