Tottenham Hotspur

Film Focus: Previewing Tottenham Hotspur Ahead of AEL Limassol Clash

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 16:  Andros Townsend of Spurs in action during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur at Boleyn Ground on August 16, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterAugust 20, 2014

Tottenham Hotspur's European adventure begins on Thursday night in Cyprus as they take on AEL Limassol in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League play-off.

It's Mauricio Pochettino's first game in a European competition since becoming a manager, and he could be set to ring the changes after beating West Ham United on the opening day of the season.

The game is of particular importance to Andros Townsend, who told Ben Pearce of the Tottenham Journal this week that he's eager to impress due to family connections:

Last season, the Dinamo Tbilisi game was really the one that made me push on.

This time it’s special for me again because I’m half Cypriot and to go out and play in Cyprus for the first time will be quite special. Hopefully I can get the nod and have a similar impact as I did last year.

My mum’s Cypriot [from Limassol] and I’ve got family there who are hopefully going to come and watch me for the first time, so it should be a good game, a special occasion.

The Europa League has been a bit of a joke in recent years, but UEFA have allowed the winner of the competition to enter the Champions League the following year from this season onward.

That simple move takes the Europa League from a Thursday night inconvenience to a portal to the upper echelons of football. Expect teams' approaches to the competition to echo that difference. 


Against West Ham

Pochettino's advertised brand of high-pressing, possession-based football was not on show at Upton Park on Saturday, but that's perhaps due to the early red card for Kyle Naughton.

West Ham put Spurs under a lot of physical pressure thanks to the man advantage, and one trait became alarmingly clear: They can dominate the middle but look suspect on the wings.

Spurs crowd the middle but leave full-backs one-vs.-one.
Spurs crowd the middle but leave full-backs one-vs.-one.Sam Tighe

"Poch" protected his centre-backs at Southampton with a brilliant shield of Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin, and he did the same on Saturday by protecting his line with Etienne Capoue and Nabil Bentaleb.

With Paulinho and Sandro still to come in, it's a strong core, but the gaps ahead of the full-backs were far too big for comfort as a result. Danny Rose is no Luke Shaw, and Naughton isn't even as good as Nathaniel Clyne.

Neither full-back stands up and challenges wingers with the ball at their feet well, and the wingers at Pochettino's disposal—namely Townsend, Erik Lamela and Aaron Lennon—don't track too well either.

If a full-back is to fend for himself, he needs an element of physicality. Of the four in the squad, it's arguable only Kyle Walker has this.


The linkup play at the other end of the pitch, though, was pleasing on the eye while the game was in its infancy. Lamela and Christian Eriksen clearly enjoy each other's company, and as a result we'll likely see the 4-2-3-1 over the 4-3-3 more often than not this season.


How They'll Shape up in Cyprus

Expect a much-changed side to play at the Tsirion Stadium, with as many as eight players drafted into the XI who beat West Ham.

Naughton should start unless Pochettino throws in Kyle Walker-Peters at the deep end, while Roberto Soldado, Jan Vertonghen, Nacer Chadli, Brad Friedel, Ben Davies, Michael Dawson, Lewis Holtby and, of course, Townsend all have a shot at starting.

Possible Spurs XI.
Possible Spurs XI.@stighefootball

Given the weaker nature of AEL, they could even go 4-4-2, but it's rare that Pochettino will ratify that formation, and the Cypriot side did just beat Zenit St Petersburg at home in the Champions League qualifiers.

Inherent caution is needed, but Townsend is just the sort of exciting talent you need for a night like this. AEL will make it as difficult as possible for Spurs, likely reverting to the same 4-5-1 formation used against Zenit, and Poch may need a moment of magic from a midfield weapon.


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