AEL vs. Tottenham Hotspur: How Spurs Will Line Up in Europa League Qualifier

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AEL vs. Tottenham Hotspur: How Spurs Will Line Up in Europa League Qualifier
Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Michael Dawson is likely to be back captaining Tottenham in their return to Europa League football versus Limassol.

AEL Limassol provide the opposition on Thursday evening as Tottenham Hotspur begin their Europa League campaign for another year.

Tottenham reached the last 16 in 2013-14, beaten by eventual finalists Benfica. The reward of a Champions League place for the winners this season means there is even more incentive to progress beyond the play-off round.

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Limassol are managed by Bulgarian Ivaylo Petev. They won the Cypriot league as recently as 2012.

Limassol beat Zenit St Petersburg 1-0 at home in their Champions League third qualifying round first leg last month, thanks to a Lukasz Gikiewicz goal. The Cypriot outfit were comfortably overturned in Russia, but the first match is evidence that Spurs should not take them lightly.

With that said, Mauricio Pochettino's team should have more than enough about them to build a lead ahead of the second leg at White Hart Lane—even if, as expected, the Argentinian makes a number of changes to the team that beat West Ham United last Saturday.

At the time of writing, no team news had been released by the club. It would be a surprise not to see some of the late returnees from the World Cup involved as they seek to gain match fitness. Likewise for those who did not feature against West Ham.

It is not necessarily a straightforward case of those who play Limassol will not be involved against Queens Park Rangers next weekend, though. Some may be selected because of that, with them being slightly fresher, too. But others may be selected with giving them a valuable run-out in mind.

Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Brad Friedel will almost certainly start for Spurs out in Cyprus.

Pochettino confirmed to Spurs' official website last week that Michel Vorm was definitely unavailable. He is still partaking in a "special plan" to improve his condition.

The evergreen Brad Friedel coming in and allowing first-choice goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to be rested is certainly a decision that could be made with QPR in mind.

At right-back, with Kyle Walker's recent injury problems, Pochettino could select Kyle Naughton, knowing he is suspended for the next Premier League game. Then again, it could be seen as an important opportunity to give Ryan Fredericks some playing playing time. Especially if he is needed against QPR.

Fredericks did play for the Under-21s on Monday, however. Do not be surprised either way, but Naughton could be the one to get the nod here.

Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Ben Davies could make his first Tottenham appearance in competitive competition.

Danny Rose was played instead of new signing Ben Davies at left-back against West Ham. The Welshman getting his chance to impress against Limassol was likely even before Rose's mixed showing at Upton Park.

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Tottenham are likely to hand some important minutes to their World Cup players like Paulinho.

Assuming he has no injury concerns, Thursday will be as good an opportunity as any to get Jan Vertonghen back involved after his break. Also, regardless of the Belgian's presence, Michael Dawson will probably be at centre-back—an unused substitute on opening day.

Pochettino has a number of options to choose from in central midfield. Sandro was not involved at all against West Ham. His long-term Spurs future is uncertain, but his selection as a defensive midfield presence would be a sensible precaution for this one.

Do not rule out either of Tom Carroll or Ryan Mason being involved. But, again assuming their good health, it would be wise to give either of Mousa Dembele or Paulinho some game time. We will go with the latter for this prediction, but it could be either.

Also in midfield, Lewis Holtby will be eager to catch the eye having not made Pochettino's starting XI last weekend. So too will be Roberto Soldado as he attempts to prove he can successfully lead the Spurs attack.

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Roberto Soldado will be eager for the chance to prove himself this season, sooner rather than later.

Whether Pochettino sticks to something close to the 4-2-3-1 formation he has generally favoured this summer or tries something a little different, he has plenty of options in attacking midfield, too.

Andros Townsend notably impressed against West Ham and could use this Europa League match to try to force his way into the starting line-up, like he did a year ago away at Dinamo Tbilisi. As he told in June:

I got my opportunity, I scored a goal and got two assists. That showed I was good enough. I started the next game against Swansea, my first Premier League start for the Club, and the rest is history.

Harry Kane was another to make a strong contribution off the bench against Spurs' London rivals, setting up Eric Dier's late winner. Either coming in off the flank to form a supporting three to the line striker, or in a front-two with Soldado, he might get a starting opportunity in Cyprus as well.

Sang Tan/Associated Press
Despite voicing concerns about the Europa League in the past, it could be a big deal for Mauricio Pochettino this season.

European football has not always provided the most satisfying experience for Tottenham in recent years (the startling difference in performances home and away against Internazionale two seasons ago sums that up best). But the Europa League is a chance to win some silverware and perhaps secure another route to the Champions League.

Starting with Limassol, it is an effort worth undertaking for Pochettino and his squad.

Predicted Tottenham line-up vs. AEL Limassol: Friedel; Naughton, Dawson (c), Vertonghen, Davies; Sandro, Paulinho, Holtby; Townsend, Kane, Soldado.

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