FC Basel vs. Tottenham Hotspur: Complete Europa League Preview
Tottenham Hotspur's last visit to Switzerland was not one that will conjure especially fond memories in those associated with the North London club. BSC Young Boys raced into a 3-0 first-half lead in the two club's 2010-11 Champions League playoff as Spurs' dreams of qualifying for the competition proper threatened to unravel.
Harry Redknapp's side pulled two back before comfortably beating Young Boys at home to progress to the group stage, but that first-leg experience was a reminder of the challenges that come with any visit to the continent. Tottenham's latest Swiss adventure sees them take on FC Basel in the second leg of their Europa League quarterfinal, knowing a similarly hard night's work lies ahead.
Having already played out a 2-2 draw with the current Swiss Super League table-toppers, Spurs do not head into the game as unfamiliar with the task at hand as they did with Young Boys. Or even their current opponents, having already been caught out by the intensity with which they were attacked by the visitors at White Hart Lane last week.
Unlike the aforementioned match in 2010, the Premier League club could not cite a playing surface of artificial turf as an excuse (and even then, a weak one). Basel were just that eager, and Andre Villas-Boas and his players just that ill-prepared.
At their St. Jakob-Park ground, there is every reason to believe Murat Yakin's team will be equally ready for the occasion. They know anything less than a win or a 3-3 draw (the first potential scoreline that could see them through on away goals) for Tottenham will see them exit the Europa League, giving the Swiss one of the more notable scalps in their history.
Home is a happy place for Basel too, with them having lost just once there all season—back in August, to CFR Cluj in the Champions League.
Eyes will once again be on first-leg standouts like Mohamad Salah and Valentin Stocker, though Yakin has Marcelo Diaz and Park Joo-Ho to call upon again, as well as possibly Philipp Degen.
Andre Villas-Boas will be pondering his next move in his attempts to ensure his team's season does not crumble under the weight of expectation.
Disappointing though elements of Spurs' last two performances have been, the determination they have shown in coming back from two- and one-goal deficits (the latter against Everton) has been commendable. Having lived to fight another day on their remaining two fronts, Villas-Boas will surely be looking to find a way to take games to the opposition, rather than having terms dictated to them yet again.
Basel are a timely test in the knowledge Thursday's game really is all or nothing for the Europa League. Spurs cannot pin their hopes on the return of injured stars Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale here; the burden to attack well truly rests on others who have not shone as brightly this season.
Emmanuel Adebayor will once again lead the line upfront. Off the back of a bright display against Everton, hopes will be on the striker to set the tone for his side. The choice of personnel behind him in midfield could well be the same as against the Toffees, though either Tom Huddlestone or Tom Carroll might be called upon off the back of positive, creative cameos in Sunday's draw.
William Gallas is injured, though Villas-Boas may finally have been tempted to drop him for Europe anyway, off the back of two poor showings. Even so, the combination the Spurs defense will actually be made up of is getting as hard to predict as lottery numbers lately. Though perhaps too soon for this game, centre-back Younes Kaboul made a welcome return to action on Monday in the Tottenham Under-21s 1-1 draw with West Ham United.
Unlike Basel (who play FC Zurich), Tottenham can focus their attentions fully on the Europa League with no league game following this weekend. Their scheduled fixture against Chelsea has been postponed as a result of the Blues' FA Cup semifinal on Sunday.
No excuse then for a less than fully-committed performance from Spurs? We shall see.
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