It’s put up or shut up time for Tottenham Hotspur, whose chances of progressing from Group B of the Champions League hinge on these next two matches against PSV Eindhoven, starting with Wednesday’s match at Philips Stadion versus the Dutch side.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Spurs are in third place in the group, ahead of PSV on goal difference, but that means little to both clubs since neither of them have a point while Barcelona and Inter Milan both have six. The north London side, which reached the knockout round last year, failed to keep up with Barcelona in their last group match earlier this month, falling 4-2 to the Catalans at Wembley Stadium, and manager Mauricio Pochettino knows nothing but three points will do.
“After defeats against Inter and Barcelona, for us, it’s a must-win game,” he told Tottenham’s official website. “If we want to be alive (in the competition) it’s so important to win. “We’re going to play a very good team, a team that is very offensive, a team first in their league. It will be tough, like always in the Champions League.
“Strategies are not important. Tactics are not important. I think about nothing but to be competitive and win because it’s three points we must win. It’s not a game that is going to give us another opportunity. We are ready to compete, we are ready to try to win and then it’s 90 minutes and we need to be better than them.”
Spurs are still dealing with a spate of injuries and will be without central defender Jan Vertonghen, left back Danny Rose and playmaker Dele Alli among their top XI. But the Lilywhites did get a boost when Denmark international Christian Eriksen made a late appearance in their 1-0 derby win at West Ham United last weekend after missing the last four matches through injury.
Either Eriksen or Heung-Min Son is expected to slot into Alli’s place on the left wing while leaving the middle to Erik Lamela, who continues to be in blistering form with four goals in his last six matches in all competitions after netting the winner against West Ham. Harry Kane leads Tottenham with six goals overall, his last coming in the loss to Barcelona.
Spurs’ Champions League form is in direct contrast to their current league form, where they have won four on the trot and recorded three consecutive clean sheets. History is clearly against Tottenham, as none of the 41 sides who failed to claim at least one point from their first two group matches dating back to 2003-04 have progressed to the knockout round.
“I think we can learn from what happened with Real Madrid last season in our group,” Spurs midfielder and England international Eric Dier told The Times, referring to how the reigning three-time champions battled their way through group play — claiming just one point versus Tottenham — before turning on the class to lift Ol’ Big Ears.
“I’m not saying we’re going to get out of the group and win the Champions League. Or that we are Real Madrid. But they had a very difficult time to get out of our group last year, and then they ended up going on to win it. “So I think the most important thing for us is to stay calm, to keep believing that it’s possible and try to win every game.”
PSV, who have not been out of the group stages since 2015-16 and made a group exit the following season in their most recent showing since this term, have been as dominant domestically in the Eredivisie as they have been overrun by Inter and Barca in continental play.
The Dutch side rolled up 10 goals without reply in their two matches since their 2-1 loss at home to Inter Milan in which they squandered a first-half lead and are coming off a 6-0 thrashing of Emmen on Saturday, ringing up season bests of 13 shots on goal and 29 overall. Gaston Pereiro and Luuk De Jong had first-half braces before Erick Gutierrez and Hirving Lozano added gloss to the scoreline in the final 11 minutes.
De Jong’s name is starting to be linked with higher-profile clubs thanks to his strong start in which he has totaled nine goals and three assists in all competitions. Lozano, the Mexico international, leads PSV with 10 markers, while Pereiro rounds out the Dutch attacking trident with eight goals to go with five assists.
Yet for all the offensive fireworks Eindhoven can supply, they know their only lifeline out of this group — whether it be either the knockout round or Europa League — is through better play defensively, and that means shutting down Kane.
“He is one of the best strikers in the world,” defender Angelino told the club’s official website. “But you will always meet good players in this competition. You only face tough tests in the UEFA Champions League. We have to earn victory. It would be great for our loyal fans.”
The teams have scant history head-to-head, meeting only in the round of 16 in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup. Each side posted a 1-0 road victory before PSV progressed on penalties at White Hart Lane. PSV are 4-2-3 at home against English clubs in Champions League play, with the last contest a 2-1 victory over Manchester United in 2015.
Tottenham, though, have a stellar track record in the Netherlands with five wins and one draw in seven all-time visits. Eriksen and centre back Toby Alderweireld have ties through PSV rivals Ajax, coming through the club’s developmental success before finding success in Europe. Alderweireld’s replacement in this contest, Colombia international Davinson Sanchez, helped Ajax reach the Europa League final in 2017.
Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are solid favourites to stay in contention to advance to the knockout round as they have 11/10 odds to grab all three points. PSV are 9/4 underdogs to hold serve at home in the first of the two matches between the sides, while a sharing of the points has 13/5 odds.
The Lilywhites have 2/1 odds to win with the match featuring more than 2.5 goals, and a low-scoring draw rates slightly better at 21/5 than a 1-0 or 2-0 Spurs victory (24/5). For the Dutch club, they have 15/4 odds to pull of a victory with more than 2.5 goals and are a 15/2 pick for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline.
Kane is the clear first-choice to be the first goal-scorer of the match at 14/5, followed by Fernando Llorente (9/2). PSV forwards de Jong and Lozano are teamed together at 11/2 to make it 1-0, while Spurs strikers Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son are paired at 7/1 for 0-1 scoreline choices. Despite his recent fine run of form, Lamela is an 8/1 longshot to open the scoring.
Kane is expected to score over the course of 90 minutes with 5/6 odds, with Llorente again second at 6/4. Lamela’s odds drop significantly to 5/2 to score for Spurs, just behind Son and Moura at 11/5. De Jong and Lozano are again PSV’s top options, this time at 17/10 to find the back of the net, with Gaston Pereiro also a 5/2 option for the Dutch club.
As Pochettino’s comments made clear, this contest is less about tactics and more about hunger and desperation for Spurs, who can ill-afford to be anything but ruthless in this match and next if they have any designs on catching either Barcelona or Inter. The London side are also likely rooting for the Catalans to stamp their superiority on this group in the other match to have a chance to reel Inter Milan back to them.
While Eindhoven have run riot domestically — as expected — with 36 goals, they have conceded just three in their 9-0-0 start in the Eredivisie, and keeper Jeroen Zoet has recorded five straight clean sheets domestically around the group defeats. While unfortunate to not come away with at least one point against Inter Milan, Marco Van Bommel’s side have every right to feel they can at least take one in this match and then have everything to play for in a fortnight at Wembley with similar hopes to Spurs the other results in Group B fall their way.
The “Spurs are tired” trope after a summer of inactivity and so many players participating in the World Cup will get no play from Van Bommel, who is an admirer of Pochettino’s ways and realises Tottenham have plenty of quality across the board even without three of their regualrs in Alli, Alderweireld and Rose. Two of those replacements — Lamela and Sanchez — will be in the spotlight at each end of the pitch, and while Eriksen may not be there at the start, he likely will be there at the finish to provide a potential swing vote.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: PSV 1, Tottenham Hotspur 3
OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 3 PREVIEWS:
Manchester United (1-1-0) vs. Juventus (2-0-0)
Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-0) vs. Manchester City (1-0-1)
Liverpool (1-0-1) vs. Red Star Belgrade (0-1-1)