Tottenham Hotspur return to Europa League action on Thursday when they take on former manager Juande Ramos' Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk side in the round of 32.
Via their official website, the North London club has been updating supporters travelling to the game about the ongoing, escalating political conflict in the Ukraine. It appears the game is unlikely to be affected, though fans heading to Dnipropetrovsk by way of Kiev have been advised to be cautious.
Football pales into significance compared to such matters of national concern. At the time of writing the death toll from the violence in the capital stood at 26—as reported by Reuters' Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets.
But it is football that Ramos, Tottenham counterpart Tim Sherwood and both sets of players will be concentrating on.
This is Sherwood's first crack at senior European competition as a coach. For his predecessor, Andre Villas-Boas (and Ramos too), performing well in the Europa League was just as important as domestic affairs.
That much was evident from Spurs' romp through the group stage earlier this season. One that, as the following statistic shows, included some solid showings on the road:
Yet, while Villas-Boas did not take the largely inferior opposition lightly, he still used the tournament as an opportunity to rotate his squad. It appears Sherwood will not differentiate too wildly from this approach, as he told The Mirror's Marc Isaacs:
I love it and there are a lot of games coming up. We are out of all the other competitions and we have got a big enough squad. There will be opportunities for other people to play and the games will come thick and fast on Thursday and Sunday. We might have to rest a few and change the selection.
Balancing resources while negotiating the challenge posed by Dnipro—currently fourth in the Ukrainian Premier League—will be an intriguing test for the still-learning Sherwood. Ramos has given mixed signals in regards to his team's chances.
In an interview with The Guardian's Sid Lowe, he as good as wrote them off. Speaking his pre-match press conference—as recorded by the Daily Mail's John Edwards—he was more confident. Either way, the man currently occupying the Spurs' hot seat is unlikely to overlook what is going to be a tricky tie in freezing conditions.
With officially confirmed team news not forthcoming prior to this article's publication, the following prediction of Spurs' starting XI is assuming the majority of those involved last time out will be available.
Sherwood's changes for that 4-0 win over Newcastle United on Feb. 12 show he is not afraid to spring a few surprises in his selections. Even so, there are one or two areas where his preference in Europe will not be apparent until game time.
For instance, he might decide to rest goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and play his backup, Brad Friedel. Based on the fact Sherwood selected the Frenchman for both his previous cup games in charge, there is a strong likelihood he will be in goal here too.
The reintroduction of Younes Kaboul to central defence last week highlighted the competition for places in the position at Spurs. Michael Dawson should be back for this one, though, with his manager hoping his maturity and experience will complement Jan Vertonghen's similar poise.
Kyle Walker will almost certainly start at right-back, where he will probably come up against his old foe from international football, Yevhen Konoplyanka. The winger has caused him problems on England duty, but Walker will hope to fare better should their paths cross this time. At left-back, Kyle Naughton may get the nod to play if Danny Rose is still unavailable.
The identity of the Spurs midfielders lining up in the Dnipro-Arena is more difficult to predict.
Sherwood may hand Etienne Capoue a further chance to prove himself as a solid midfield anchor for Spurs. The reliable Mousa Dembele could be moved back centrally, with Christian Eriksen coming in after he was dropped for Newcastle. Those two selections offer plenty of European experience whilst also allowing Nabil Bentaleb and Paulinho a night off after impressive recent displays.
Nacer Chadli's goal was the cherry on top of the Magpies' win and should earn him his own chance to stake a claim for more regular first-team football. Some of Andros Townsend's best displays this season have come in Europe this season. The trip to Ukraine will be an ideal opportunity for him to continue to regain his match fitness.
Given Emmanuel Adebayor's great recent form, Sherwood will be loathe to leave the striker out and may not. However, he will not want to wear him out.
This should present a much-needed chance for Roberto Soldado as he tries again to get back in the goals. Getting Spurs' wingers high enough up the pitch to support him will be important in ensuring he does not get isolated against Dnipro. He has not been lacking service in recent appearances, though, and more than anything needs to regain the finishing touch that had harshly eluded him in 2014.
It has been a long hard winter for Tottenham, and it is not over yet. With the change of location for this one and an opponent eager to prove themselves at this level, this could be as tough as they have faced.
Predicted Tottenham line-up vs. Dnipro: Lloris; Walker, Dawson (c), Vertonghen, Naughton; Chadli, Dembele, Capoue, Eriksen, Townsend; Soldado.
EDIT: Since writing this article, Tim Sherwood has confirmed on Tottenham's official Twitter page that Hugo Lloris and Kyle Walker are among those not to have travelled.
As for amendments to the previously predicted team, Brad Friedel will almost certainly deputise for Lloris. In front of him in defence, Zeki Fryers should come in for Walker, switching with Kyle Naughton at left-back, the latter going to his natural right side.
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