Match date & time: Thursday 13th March 2014. Kick off 8:05pm.
Competition: Europa League, round of 16 1st leg.
Venue: White Hart Lane.
TV: Live on ITV 1.
Here we go, the business end of the Europa League is here, the glamour ties start to appear and the task becomes incredibly difficult to juggle with our Premier League commitments, but this season’s Europa League campaign has been a sort of nice distraction from the Premier League, something to look forward to and it builds excitement amongst fans and gives opportunities for fans to get to White Hart Lane, who may not go very often. I really like the competition, and now the challenge of Benfica is something I smile while thinking about; hopefully we put up a real fight, and then continue, because a trophy would be bloody marvellous.
We have been terrible on the big occasions this season, with too many capitulations and 3+ goals thrashing in the games which we have to put in more effort and show more quality. The fans have been disappointed far too often and hopefully, after Sherwood laid into the players, we won’t see the players give up, and will see more desire and passion from the team, even if we go a goal down. I want to see fight. We lost 4-0 to Chelsea, with luck going against us, but it wasn’t good enough and this fixture against Benfica is the perfect opportunity for the players and Sherwood to show they care and they are winners, because we haven’t seen it. We have history up against Benfica, we played them in the European Cup semi-final 52 years in 1962, our first European campaign, and lost 4-3 on aggregate. We lost 3-1 at the Stadium of Light in Portugal, and in the second leg won 2-1, with Jimmy Greaves being disallowed a goal for offside which would have drawn the game level, but we bowed out of the competition after a brilliant tournament all those years ago. Now, we will hope to have revenge against Benfica, and hopefully we will do what the 1961/62 team couldn’t do, and get past them and go into the quarter finals of the Europa League. It’s going to be a very tough game.
Benfica are a Champions League standard team. They are the level which we want to be in the near future. If we want to get into the Champions League, we have to show we can beat sides with the calibre of Benfica, Portuguese giants. Benfica are unbeaten in 17 games, winning 15 of those games in all competitions, including wins up against Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League, and Porto in the Primeira Liga. That’s impressive. They are top of the Primeira Liga, clear by 7 points and winning their last 5, so you can already see what a difficult task we have in front of us. The team news for Benfica is that after injury, Oscar Cardozo is back in the frame and is likely to start. The Portuguese outfit has a number of threats; up front, just mentioned Oscar Cardozo is a brilliant striker, he’s big and a deadly finisher with 26 goals in 25 starts last season, but this season he has been injured and has only started 11 games, scoring 4 goals. Another important player is Nicolas Gaitan, the attacking midfielder has 5 goals and 6 assists in 28; with a lot of pace and creativity he could hurt us. Rodrigo is another, we were linked in the summer with the striker/winger, and he has had a great season with 11 goals in 26 appearances, pacey and a definite goal threat.
The team news for Spurs is that Erik Lamela (thigh/back), Vlad Chiriches (back), Etienne Capoue (ankle) and Michael Dawson (hamstring) have been ruled out of the game, and all of those players will also be out for Sunday’s North London Derby too. Mousa Dembele missed the Chelsea game with a hamstring problem, and is set for a late fitness test to see if he can play against Benfica, if not, he’ll be back for the Arsenal game on Sunday. Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose are back in contention after injuries and are likely to play a part in the game, two massive boosts, with Eriksen’s creativity being missed heavily and Danny’s offensive contributions on the left being lacked in his absence, too. Defensively, this game is crucial to our hopes of continuing to the quarter finals, we must contain Benfica’s attack, so I think we have to play our strongest back four, with Walker on the right, Vertonghen and Kaboul at centre back, along with Danny Rose at left back and Hugo Lloris in goal; this gives us our best chance of a clean sheet, playing Sandro would help defensively too. We are into the part of the competition where resting our best players will not see us through, and so the players will have to deal with the increase of games, and show desire to win in every game. Offensively, I think Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor will start upfront together; they are a partnership in working progress, and Ade drops back into midfield anyway so I don’t think we’d miss the extra midfielder too much with a 4-4-2.
Match facts provided by the Europa League.
– Tottenham have played ten games against Portuguese sides in UEFA competition, with the record W7 D1 L2 (W5 D0 L0 at home).
– Benfica have played 32 games against English clubs in UEFA competition, most recently last season’s UEFA Europa League final in Amsterdam, which they lost 2-1 to Chelsea FC. Their record in those games is W10 D5 L17.
– Spurs are unbeaten in 11 European home games (W9 D2) since a 2-1 loss to PAOK FC in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League group stage.
– Spurs beat FC Internazionale Milano on away goals at this stage of last season’s UEFA Europa League to reach the quarter-finals, where they lost out to FC Basel on penalties.
– After entering the round of 32 from the UEFA Champions League group stage, Benfica are aiming to reach the final for the second successive season.
– Tottenham (1972, 1984) are one of six previous UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League winners left in the competition along with Sevilla (2006, 2007), Valencia CF (2004), SSC Napoli (1989), FC Porto (2003, 2011) and Juventus (1977, 1990, 1993).
There is nothing better than a European night at White Hart Lane, especially against a massive club like Benfica are. Hopefully the players are as pumped as us fans are, and can put on a performance! Let’s get a win to hold us in good stead for the second leg! COYS!!
My predicted/preferred team to face Benfica at the Lane:
Walker – Kaboul – Vertonghen – Rose
Townsend – Bentaleb – Sandro – Eriksen
Soldado – Adebayor.
Tim Sherwood’s pre Benfica press conference: