Europa League: 4 Expectations as Tottenham Hotspur Visit Limassol
After weeks of important pre-season matches and a long void between the spectacle that was Brazil 2014, we've finally got the competitive, crazy, anything goes football that we all love so much back on the schedule. And this Thursday sees Tottenham Hotspur face Cypriot side AEL Limassol in Europa League action.
With the Premier League having just kicked-off at the weekend, clubs up and down the country experienced mixed fortunes. But Spurs were one of just eight clubs who managed to get their campaign off to a winning start, picking up three points against West Ham United in a 1-0 win.
Grabbing a last-minute winner, the Lilywhites got through their opening encounter by the skin of their teeth, but the hope now is that they can push on and build on that positive start.
But there remains much work for them to do, and a few tactical problems to tweak if they're to get everything right for a top-four challenge.
Along with this, they also have the added duty of the Europa League, something that can either prove a hindrance or a help in the long-run. It remains to be seen just how it treats them.
So, let's take a look at four things we can expect to see as Mauricio Pochettino's men begin their European adventure with a trip to Cyprus.
Spurs Need to Fix Mistakes They Made Against the Hammers
Far from a perfect re-entry to domestic matchday action, Tottenham made a string of poor errors against Sam Allardyce's men at the weekend, and it didn't instil a great deal of confidence in their ability.
Granted, the season is still in its nascent stages and while there's plenty of time to get their game plan right in the league, Europe is a far more cruel and impatient mistress, and they don't have a whole lot of time on their hands on that front.
Directing far too many of their attacking forages into the central channels, they found themselves flushed out and denied by West Ham's stubborn defending, particularly in the opening half. So, they'll have to ensure they bear that in mind this Thursday.
Should they repeat the same mistakes again, Limassol will be more than happy to sit back and catch them on the counter-attack, and the pressure already on them to grab a vital away goal could soon be doubled—something that might have a major impact on their composure for the return leg, if things don't go their way.
Big-Game Players Need to Take Charge of Proceedings
A fantastic opportunity for many of Pochettino's top-quality stars to grab the headlines with a few goals, slick tricks and crafty assists, the clash with Limassol could provide many with the turning point they seem to so desperately need.
Because, if they're not careful, September might come to a close without too many positives for them to take out of it.
So far, their top performers haven't been particularly inspiring, even managing to get upstaged by a time-wasting, headline-grabbing pitch invader, who ran on to the field of play on Saturday to chip a free-kick over a bemused West Ham wall and into the 'keeper's hands.
Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela failed to really put their stamp on the match as Pochettino was forced to alter their positioning at the half-time break, and there was little fluidity to their setup.
And although their mediocre performance was partly due to their one-man disadvantage for much of the match, one still expected something a little more from a team that harbours ambitions of the top-four.
Should Pochettino carry out some much-needed man-management ahead of their midweek clash, it's possible that many of his under-performing players could walk out onto the pitch 10-feet tall in a bid to thrash their relatively unknown competitors.
If one thing is sure, though, it's that they really need a huge performance from their star players. This is a bigger test than many might want to believe.
Squad Players Might Well Spring a Surprise
Not many would have seen anyone other than the obvious choices of West Ham's Mark Noble or Tottenham's Emmanuel Adebayor or Aaron Lennon breaking the deadlock at the weekend.
But then Spurs' centre-half Eric Dier popped up a million miles away from his own 18-yard box to coolly slot home the winning goal.
Delighting the fans and papering over some of the cracks on show, it offered them a get-out-of-jail-free card that they took with aplomb.
And while it raised the question as to why their big players were so anonymous that day, it also underlined one of the positives of having such a big squad.
Players on the fringes of big clubs are always looking for a way to worm their way into the manager's plans and, again, the match against Ivaylo Petev's Limassol will present yet another opportunity for performers on the edge of Pochettino's plans to show him just what they can do when called upon.
Simply put, so many of them are eager to put in a good shift and make a good impression, and while the manager and coaches might sweat over the selection headaches to come, it might just be one of their biggest strengths.
Spurs Should Try and Work on Their Set PIeces
A team chock-full of dead-ball specialists, supporters of the White Hart Lane side are keen to see their club start scoring more regularly when they get the chances.
Against the Cypriots this week, it's likely that they'll be doing much of the attacking, despite playing away from home, and if they can move the ball rapidly enough to wrong-foot their opponents, they should find a few gaps to thread balls through to whoever happens to be leading the line.
Because let's face it, Spurs are far more technically adept than last season's Cypriot First Division runners-up.
And although they should expect a ferocious and combative battle, their proficiency on the ball is something they should expect to rely on. But with stray legs and poorly-timed challenges a feature in any match, they should expect to see themselves win a few free-kicks around the edges of Limassol's 18-yard box.
From there, Roberto Soldado, Eriksen, Lamela and the long list of suspected candidates would be expected to cause problems for Moroccan custodian Karim Fegrouch and his defensive comrades.
But that's not all. They should also be careful they don't get caught out down the other end of the pitch either.
Against West Ham, they looked vulnerable defending corners and free-kicks, and they gave the ball away a lot—something that breeds last-gasp challenges and the concession of lots of cheap free-kicks.