With their proverbial backs to the wall and without their No. 1 goalkeeper, Tottenham Hotspur look to keep their flickering Champions League hopes alive in a de facto elimination match in Group B on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium versus PSV Eindhoven.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Spurs have had a trying fortnight that started with their 2-2 draw at Philips Stadion that left both them and PSV teetering on the edge of elimination with three matches remaining. Barcelona are in command of the group with the maximum nine points, three better than Inter Milan, and both sides are rooting for the Catalan giants to complete a sweep of Nerazzuri that would give the winner of this match — provided they do not draw again — a lifeline to escaping the group as runners-up.
Tottenham, though, have a selection dilemma on their hands since No. 1 Hugo Lloris must serve his red card suspension for his challenge outside the penalty area on Hirving Lozano in the reverse fixture. Paulo Gazzaniga would appear to be the frontrunner consideirng he has won all four of his starts this season — two in the Premier League and two in the Carabao Cup after a 3-1 derby victory at West Ham United last week in the latter — but Mauricio Pochettino admitted Monday he has yet to land on a starter among Gazzaniga, Michel Vorm and Alfie Whiteman.
“We try to be fair in our selection,” Pochettino told the club’s official website. “We talk about form and performance and my decision is to choose the best player who is going to affect the team. In my mind, there is not a number one, two and three. Football is dynamic and things change a lot. We always try to be fair to them with our decisions.”
Vorm made three starts earlier this term when Lloris was sidelined with a thigh bruise and then dealt with the aftermath of his drink-driving arrest. The Netherlands international started Spurs’ Champions League play opener, a 2-1 loss at Inter Milan. Vorm suffered an injury in that contest, giving way to Gazzaniga for three matches before Lloris returned for the 4-2 home defeat to Barcelona.
The hangover from the draw in the Netherlands carried into league play, where the Lilywhites lost 1-0 to reigning champions and current table-toppers Manchester City on a ragged Wembley Stadium pitch that had been worn out due to a series of NFL games played there. Tottenham regrouped to a degree with the cup win over West Ham United then survived a nervy 20 minutes to record a 3-2 victory at Wolverhampton on Saturday.
Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura scored three minutes apart in the first half, and the match appeared done and dusted when Harry Kane followed up his own saved shot to lash one into the net for a three-goal lead on 62 minutes, but defender Juan Foyth lost the plot as he committed two fouls 10 minutes apart — movements that began with gaffes by right back Kieran Trippier — that Wolves converted from the spot.
Lloris made some key interceptions and interventions to preserve the three points as Tottenham remained five back of Manchester City, but Pochettino did note after the win the England international right back’s defensive play must improve.
“Of course Kieran needs to improve in the defensive situation, because in the last few games we have conceded a few actions,” the gaffer told The Times. “Like him, all the players need to improve in the defensive situation and be more aggressive. [Against] Barcelona, Manchester City and now, we concede very poor goals and that is a thing that we need to improve on. That is mentality, it’s belief that you can improve: it’s about will, not about quality. Quality is when you have the ball at your feet and you score a fantastic goal, or a great pass. But for me, in football, the key is when you don’t have the ball.”
Whether Pochettino is willing to sacrifice Trippier’s superb crossing ability with a more defensive-minded right back in Serge Aurier is yet to be determined, but in a match like this where Spurs not only need three points but a multiple-goal win to give themselves a fighting chance at overtaking Inter Milan, Tripper’s spot likely appears safe.
The good news for Spurs is most of their attacking options finally appear fully healthy. Dele Alli was held out of the Wolves match as a precaution, but after starting in the Carabao Cup victory, it would appear he is ready to re-join the fray. Heung-Min Son appeared as a substitute after a brace against West Ham and could be among the 18 for this match.
“We know what we have to do if we want to progress in this group and that’s win all of the games that we have coming up,” left back Ben Davies said at Monday’s news conference. “That’s our mindset. That’s been our mindset since the start but it hasn’t gone the way we’d have wanted. But that’s what we have to do from now on.”
PSV extended their perfect start in the Eredivisie, making it 11 wins in as many matches with a 1-0 victory over 10-man Vitesse on Saturday. It was the usual suspects teaming up for Eindhoven’s lone goal as Hirving Lozano set up Luuk de Jong’s winner in the 69th minute.
“We know how to score a goal but we have been made to work very hard for it. When Doekhi had been sent off, Vitesse defended stoutly and we found it hard to break down their compact defence”, De Jong told the club’s official website. “That was a good cross and that’s the way I like to have them. I was in the right place to slot home.”
PSV coach Mark Van Bommel is expected to field almost the exact same starting XI from the first encounter between the teams. The most likely change will be at left wing, where Steve Berwijn is expected to get the nod over Danyell Malen after missing the first game through injury.
It was the ninth goal in 11 league matches for de Jong as PSV bounced back from a surprising second-round loss in the KNVB Cup to RKC Waalwijk 3-2 in extra time in which Mark Van Bommel overturned his entire side from their 2-1 win at FC Gronigen.
Eindhoven have not won an away match in Champions League group play since a 1-0 victory at CSKA Moscow in 2007, going 0-2-8. PSV, however, did win at BATE en route to reaching the group stage this term and also at Zulte Waregem in preliminary qualifying rounds in 2013.
Per Ladbrokes, the Lilywhites are overwhelming favourites to claim all three points at 4/11 odds, while PSV are 7/1 longshots to pull off a shock scoreline and keep their fleeting hopes of advancement alive. There are 4/1 odds on a draw that would all but mathematically eliminate both sides unless Inter win, which in that case, a draw would leave both teams playing for third place and a spot in the Europa League.
After a four-goal thriller in the Netherlands, it is not surprising a Tottenham victory with more than 2.5 goals would lead the way with 5/6 odds. A Spurs victory by a 1-0 or 2-0 count checks in with 18/5 odds. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has a 6/1 return, and a PSV victory with more than 2.5 goals gets 10/1 odds. A defensive Dutch road victory is the longest of longshot at 18/1, while another 2-2 draw or higher has 12/1 odds.
Kane leads the list for first-goal scorers at 9/4 odds, with a parade of Spurs teammates behind him. Fernando Llorente is 7/2, while Son has 5/1 odds, having picked up some momentum with his Carabao Cup brace. Moura and Lamela are 11/2 and 13/2, respectively, while playmakers Alli and Christian Eriksen are both 7/1 picks to make it 1-0. Unsurprisingly, Lozano and de Jong are the top options for PSV, both getting a listing of 8/1.
Kane is a staggering 8/15 to get a goal during this match, while Llorente is just worse than even money at 21/20. Son (7/5), Moura (8/5) and Lamela (19/10) are all better than 2/1 selections, which is where you can find Alli and Eriksen. Lozano and de Jong are again paired together for PSV’s top selections — weighing in at 23/10 — and PSV playmaker Gaston Pereiro has 7/2 odds to find the back of the net.
It was in some ways comical to see the absolute disdain Pochettino had over the final 20 minutes of Spurs’ win over Wolverhampton as he watched the match go from walkabout in the park at 3-0 to “(Bleep), we could actually drop points here” after Raul Jimenez calmly stroked his penalty to make it 3-2 with 12 minutes to play.
Yet Spurs persevered and got the three points, which were absolutely vital after their tetchy 1-0 loss to City in which both good Spurs and bad Spurs were on display. But for this match, Pochettino really has to release the hounds and go after a victory. That means the attacking rotation must include Alli, Son, Moura, Lamela and Eriksen behind Kane, and Trippier must play right back, warts and all on the defensive side of the moment.
The Wembley pitch will again be a concern, with UEFA actually dispatching an inspector before determining if PSV will be given the federation-allowed one hour of training on the grounds. Per Sky Sports, the Wembley grounds crew did not think the seven days between the match against City and this contest were enough for the pitch to be 100 percent recovered, but it would still expect to be much better than the condition for the City contest in which the middle appeared to have more dirt than grass, and the NFL yardage lines and league logo still clearly visible.
This is match where Spurs’ wide backs — Davies and Trippier — will have to play well given PSV’s pace on the flanks. They caused plenty of problems in the Netherlands, evidenced by their late fightback after Lloris was banished, and there must be a commitment to help Gazzaniga, who has acquitted himself well with wins in all four matches, including one via penalties.
The panic period for Spurs may have passed by them hanging on for a victory over Wolverhampton. Hopefully, Pochettino lets them play a fearless match because the only thing they control in this group at the moment are these 90 minutes.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 4, PSV 1.