Tottenham will take their next step toward a Europa League title with a knockout-stage match against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
Spurs have been flawless in the European competition so far this year, winning all six of their group-stage battles while outscoring opponents 15-2. Only SV Salzburg also went the entire first phase without dropping a point.
The question is whether the club can keep this up while also balancing a race for a top-four finish in the English Premier League. It currently sits in fifth place, three points back of Liverpool for fourth.
Meanwhile, Dnipro were safely in second place in their group in the Europa League but have struggled at times in the Ukraine Premier League. Even at home this squad will struggle to come away with a victory in this match.
Still, anything can happen at this level, which should create an exciting atmosphere throughout.
Who will win?
When: Thursday, Feb. 20
Where: Dnipro-Arena, Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine
Time (U.S.): 1 p.m. ET
Time (U.K.): 6 p.m. GMT
Watch (U.S.): Fox Sports 2
Watch (U.K.): ITV 4
Live Stream: ESPN3
Odds (via Oddschecker): Tottenham (6-4), Dnipro (19-10), Draw (21-10)
Top Storyline: Does Tottenham Have to Utilize a Full Roster to Win?
After going eight full days between matches, Tottenham should be relatively fresh. Of course, this is nothing compared to Dnipro, who have not played a competitive match since December.
Still, Spurs manager Tim Sherwood has to figure out how to keep everyone in form heading into the final few months of EPL play. Dan Fitch of ESPN explains his opinion on who should play on Thursday:
No one knows Spurs’ young players better than Sherwood, so he is well-placed to decide which ones could handle this level of football. Personally, I’d be disappointed to see the likes of Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Emmanuel Adebayor travelling to Dnipropetrovsk. Give the kids and fringe players a chance instead.
This would have been a good opportunity for Erik Lamela to get onto the pitch, but he will be out for six weeks with a back injury. Gylfi Sigurdsson and a few others could continue to play in the Europa League after not getting starts in EPL matches.
Sherwood certainly hints that he will try to rest some of the first team, via Marc Isaacs of the Daily Mirror:
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.
The only risk is if he does rest players, what happens if his side starts to struggle? Tottenham should be fine in this matchup, but it could be a major problem if they are trailing heading into the second leg at White Hart Lane.
Prediction: Tottenham 1, Dnipro 0
Going on the road to the Ukraine, Tottenham are certain to come out a little sluggish. For this reason, it would be smart to see a more conservative approach to avoid a counter-attack and keep it a low-scoring match.
Watch for the English club to control possession for more than usual, something that will help out the defense that has been inconsistent at times.
Yevhen Seleznyov and Roman Zozulya have performed well in league play this year and could be dangerous around the net. Spurs do not want to give either of these players an opportunity to score.
On the other side of the pitch, Roberto Soldado should get the start and be able to beat the opposing defenders for at least one score. That should be enough in this match to secure the victory and hold the advantage after the first leg of competition.
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