Match date & time: Thursday 21st August 2014. 5pm GMT KO.
Competition: Europa League – play-off stage.
Venue: Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium, Larnaca, Cyprus.
TV: Not televised in the UK.
The Europa League has come back round the corner. Last season, we made the round of 16 before meeting our match in Benfica. This season, our aim as it was last season is to win the competition, but it will be very difficult. It starts here, in the play-off round to enter the group stages. We had to get through this last year, facing Dinamo Tblisli and we got through the game with ease, and now we’ll be hoping to breeze past AEL Limassol in similar fashion. We should be taking this competition seriously, because, as Pochettino has said, it gives us another chance to secure Champions League. Even if that chance is slim, difficult and even more unrealistic than getting top 4, it’s a chance and given a good draw and luck goes our way, who knows; we have the squad to do well, that is for sure.
AEL Limassol were champions of the Cypriot division 1 in the 2013/14 season, winning 19, drawing 5 and losing just 2. This got them into the Champions League third qualifying round, where they met a strong Zenit St. Petersburg side, managed by our former head coach Andre Villas Boas. In the first leg, at home, they beat AVB’s side 1-0, a massive win for their club and City, but in the second leg away from home they couldn’t finish the job as Zenit ran away 3-0 victors. This should show us that this could be a really tough test that if we underestimate them, we could get stung by an obviously ‘plucky’ AEL Limassol team who will no doubt be pumped up for the game.
The team news for Tottenham is that Emmanuel Adebayor, Christian Eriksen, Etienne Capoue, Younes Kaboul, Michel Vorm and Etienne Capoue have been left in London for the first leg, while Vlad Chiriches (back) and Kyle Walker (pelvis) are still suffering from their injuries. Good news is that Jan Vertonghen, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho and Mousa Dembele are back in contention for the game after returning from the World Cup, so we’re hoping that they get a run out and then be ready for the game against QPR in the Premier League on Sunday after missing the West Ham game. Youngsters Milos Veljkovic and Luke McGee (GK) have also traveled with the squad along with Tom Carroll. It’s a very strong squad and we’ll be looking to take a strong lead into the second leg at White Hart Lane, but if we slip up, we will still be confident of breezing past them at the Lane into the group stages.
It’s important that our World Cup players get minutes, and I’m specifically looking forward to seeing Jan Vertonghen return to the field after an impressive World Cup display. He has the talent, after a disappointing 2013/14 season, to become our key defender and really take this season by storm as he did in his 2012/13 debut season, when he made the Premier League team of the year, it’s key that he regains that form as we will rely on him this season. Three players returning from the World Cup Mousa Dembele, Paulinho and Nacer Chadli have a lot to prove this season, but I do believe they have the quality to show why we bought them in the first place, especially Mousa Dembele who I think has incredible ability, but he needs to find form and fitness again and come back with the form he had in his first season and in his Fulham days, this starts against AEL Limassol. Lewis Holtby is another I think is important for the game, he can provide the spark along with Erik Lamela in the absence of Christian Eriksen, with Harry Kane providing goals without Emmanuel Adebayor present.
We’ve got a tough game on our hands, with what is expected to be a hostile atmosphere and a dodgy pitch. We have to be professional, as always, and look to get a good result to bring back to North London. The game isn’t televised in the UK but I’m sure a stream will become available. Make sure to follow my twitter account @AddictedToSpurs for match & goal updates, photos and videos for the game. COYS!!
My predicted team to face AEL Limassol in Larnaca:
Naughton – Dier – Vertonghen – Davies
Paulinho – Carroll
Townsend – Holtby – Chadli
Mauricio Pochettino’s pre match press conference: