Group Stage Fan Preview: Tottenham

The Champions League and Tottenham Hotspur don’t always mix well together. The North London club are set to make their third appearance in the competition in its current form and the first two campaigns were quite contrasting, as any Spurs fan will attest to.

The first, under Harry Redknapp and more importantly at White Hart Lane, was full of memories, giving Tottenham fans young and old something to remembered for the ages as they defeated the reigning European champions Inter Milan 3-1 at The Lane, a game which announced a certain Gareth Bale to the elite. Another victory against Inter’s inner city rivals Milan saw Spurs advance to the quarterfinal stages where they were eliminated by Real Madrid.

It was a good run in the competition and something to be proud of, but the same couldn’t be said about what happened last season in their return to Europe’s elite competition.

On paper it looked an easy group for Tottenham, but losses against Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen at Wembley, including a draw against the German side in Leverkusen and a loss in Monte Carlo to an exciting Monaco side meant that Tottenham once again dropped into the Europa League, having to put the Champions League on hold once again.

How They Got Here:

Of course, Spurs and Mauricio Pochettino were so close to winning the Premier League title yet again but were just unable to stop a rampant Chelsea side win the league in Antonio Conte’s first year in charge. Their fantastic Premier League season meant that Spurs finished second and therefore did not have to go into the playoffs, instead going straight into pot three.

The Group Stage Draw:

I don’t actually think it could have been worse for Spurs. Okay, maybe that is an exaggeration, but the point is that Tottenham could have had an easier group than what Francesco Totti drew out for them in Nyon.

Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and APOEL came out of the pots along with Tottenham to make what has been affectionately known as the “Group of Death” because every tournament has to have a Group of Death and this is it. A lot of people complained about the draw saying it was too tough and “there’s no point, we’re going out anyway” but isn’t this what the UEFA Champions League is all about? We saw what happened to Spurs within an “easier” group so maybe going to the Westfalenstadion and the Santiago Bernabau may give the squad a kick up the backside?

Is it possible for Spurs to get through this group? Absolutely, because despite coming up against the best team on Planet Earth right now in Real Madrid, Pochettino’s side could easily beat APOEL and could certainly give Dortmund a run for their money.

It will be a tough draw for Tottenham, but if they can banish any Wembley woes by the time the first fixture rolls around they will be feeling a lot more confident. Besides, it could be worse, they could be in Celtic’s group alongside Bayern Munich and PSG. Or even worse, they could be Arsenal…

How Will Spurs Play:

What Spurs need to do is what they did best for the majority of last season and that is to attack teams with pace and power. In the early stages of the season, Spurs have looked lackluster and without much confidence about them.

Losing Kyle Walker in the summer and not having a suitable replacement ready for him hurt the side against Chelsea and Burnley in the Premier League, but as much as Kieran Trippier is a good player, new signing Serge Aurier offers Spurs exactly what they needed on the right flank, despite his controversial decisions off the pitch.

I’d expect Spurs to line up in a 3-4-2-1 formation with Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama as the holding midfielders, but the key area for the first three games they will be without Dele Alli following his reckless red card in the Europa League against Gent. Heung Min Son is the likely player to deputize in place of Dele but given how he’s started the season with a cast over his wrist and forearm, Moussa Sissoko may actually get a game.

The lineup remains largely the same from last season but of course with Aurier and some more depth up front with Fernando Llorente and in defence with Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth, Spurs may have a deep enough squad to cope with the demands. The biggest thing that they need to work on, however, is their mental strength.

We all know how big a factor Wembley is on the players and fans, but with Madrid and Dortmund coming to town, two teams that are more than capable of playing on the front foot, Spurs need to adapt to the size of the pitch as well as the mental stability needed to know they can go toe-to-toe with Europe’s biggest sides.

Who Will Need to Shine:

For someone who is so prolific in the Premier League, Harry Kane needs to take that giant step and show he can do it when the world is watching. He was surprisingly poor in last seasons run but you’d expect that with some Champions League knowledge under his belt and following his brace for England against Malta, we may be seeing a newer, more confident Harry Kane to the one that started the season.

Another player that needs to do well is Mousa Dembele, affectionately known as GOAT by the Spurs faithful for his outstanding performances throughout his time with the club. Dembele hasn’t done anything wrong, in fact he’s looked better than he did last season already thanks to what seems to be a fully fit hip, but you just get the feeling that there is so much more to his game than he shows. If he can become the controller of games in the Champions League, fans will see why he is known as the GOAT.

How Will Spurs Do:

It will be tough for Spurs to qualify from this group, there is no doubt about it but as I said earlier, it is not impossible. If they can learn from their mistakes last season, prove that they can handle themselves against bigger opposition like Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund; they can easily advance, but only as the second placed team. No one expects Real Madrid to finish lower than first in this group, especially considering they are most peoples favourites to win the whole thing but nevertheless Spurs fans should be able to see that two good results against Dortmund could be all it takes.

You’d be willing to bet your house that every team beats APOEL, including Spurs, and you’d also be willing to bet your car that neither Dortmund or Spurs take anything off of Real Madrid so effectively that leaves the two games against each other as the key games of the group.

That being said, Spurs are here to stay. The fans obviously want to enjoy the away days and the players want to enjoy playing against the best players in the world but you have to make a statement in football, especially in the Champions League. It will be tough for Tottenham Hotspur but if there is any team that can upset the odds, it’s Mauricio Pochettino’s Blue and White Army.

By: Tom Scholes

Photo: Getty