Their ticket to the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year punched in dramatic and emphatic fashion, Tottenham Hotspur try to come down off their high and stay in the thick of the Premier League race as their hectic December fixture list continues Saturday at Wembley versus Burnley.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
It could very well go down as the greatest draw in Spurs history, regardless of the strength of the Barcelona side they faced Tuesday at the Nou Camp. Mauricio Pochettino’s team – and specifically untested right back Kyle Walker-Peters – shook off a seventh-minute goal by Barca’s Ousmane Dembele to scrape out a gritty 1-1 draw courtesy of Lucas Moura’s goal three minutes from time.
The result, coupled with Inter Milan surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by group-bottom PSV Eindhoven, allowed the Lilywhites passage to the Champions League round of 16 as Group B runners-up.
For the moment, no one is worried about potential opponents Juventus, Bayern Munich or even reigning three-times champions Real Madrid ahead of Friday’s draw for their February fate after the staggering amount of energy Spurs expended to claim seven points from their final three group play matches to simply be included.
“It’s a massive achievement for the Club,” Pochettino said post-match. “It’s so important to be in the next stage of the Champions League. It’s a massive boost for everyone. Now we keep going. We were a little unlucky in how we conceded the first goal after seven minutes and that changed our strategy a little and we started to play in two different stadiums – here at the Nou Camp and in Milan.
“In the second half we found a way to link play better in our possession and started to create chances. We deserved to go through. We’ve made the impossible, possible and it’s important to show everyone if you believe, everything in football is possible. That emotion is so important and we need to protect that and use it in the right way, trying to push with everyone involved and the belief that we can improve and do better.”
To say Spurs left it late in their five-week scramble would be a huge understatement since both match-winners versus PSV and Inter and Moura’s equaliser Tuesday came on 80 minutes or later. For Moura, his seventh goal this term in all competitions was also a personal redemption after the nightmare he endured at the Nou Camp in his last visit with PSG in March 2017 when Barcelona stunned the French side with three goals after the 88th minute to advance with a 6-5 aggregate win in the round of 16.
“It was a very important goal and I’m so happy to score here in the Nou Camp in the Champions League and help my team-mates to qualify,” the Brasil international told Spurs’ official website. “It was an amazing moment. The last time here was really sad for me and this is really different.
“In the second half we did very well. We had many chances to score. We could win. It was a deserved result. … It was a very happy night for me, an amazing moment.”
Now, though, it is time for Spurs (12-0-4) to turn their attention back to domestic play. Thanks to derby rivals Chelsea, who knocked off previously unbeaten and reigning champions Manchester City last weekend, Pochettino’s side is just six points back of new leaders Liverpool and part of a three-time race.
“To qualify for the next stage of the Champions League is an amazing thing for the club, it means a lot for the fans and the players,” Pochettino said. “But now we are thinking about Burnley, a tough game on Saturday, and we need to create an amazing atmosphere at Wembley because it’s an important three points.
“We need to be ready because the competition doesn’t wait for you, it doesn’t stop, and it’s so important to be in our best condition to compete. We need to take the game in the same way as Barcelona with the same motivation. If we want to be consistent, it’s a game where we need to give our best and compete in our best way.”
Pochettino will likely again lean on the 21-year-old Walker-Peters since first-choice right back Kieran Trippier is still sidelined with a groin injury and understudy Serge Aurier just returned to training after suffering a groin injury in last weekend’s win over Leicester City. It would also not be surprising to see Moura and Erik Lamela in the starting XI given the amount of energy Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen expended at the Nou Camp.
Burnley (3-3-10) moved above the drop last weekend with a crucial 1-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion that ended a three-match losing streak and eight-match winless spell (0-2-6) overall.
Jack Tarkowski was able to re-direct Jack Cork’s 40th-minute cross for the lone goal, and the Clarets’ defence that had gone missing for so long this term finally showed its teeth as it followed up the solid effort in their 3-1 loss to Liverpool with their first clean sheet at home since routing Bournemouth 4-0 on Sept. 22.
“We know there is a strength to the unity of the side and recently we haven’t got over the line in games where we could have done,” Clarets boss Sean Dyche said post-match. “Others have rightly gone against us because we haven’t performed. But slowly and surely we are remodelling our game and in three of the last four we’ve looked more like ourselves.”
Dyche has some injury concerns to deal with as attacking midfielder Steven Defour and right wing Johann Berg Gudmundsson will be late decisions due to calf and hamstring injuries, respectively. Aaron Lennon would likely replace Gudmundsson on the flank while Dyche has multiple options for Defour, including dropping Ashley Barnes into the playmaking role and pairing together strikers Chris Wood and Sam Vokes.
Having finally ended their winless run, Dyche feels a weight has been lifted off his side and will be able to play freely at Wembley.
“We go down there with a bit more freedom, the expectation changes,” he noted to Sky Sports. “Last week against Brighton when there is really heavy expectation for us to get a result. “It changes when you go to places like Tottenham. That gives us just that little bit of freedom to take the game on and hopefully deliver a very good performance, because we will need it.”
The Clarets nicked a point off Spurs in their trip to Wembley last term, with Wood’s 92nd minute canceling out a goal by Dele Alli just before the hour. Burnley are winless in eight (0-3-5) in all competitions versus Spurs since their long Premier League win in eight tries (1-2-5) – a 4-2 victory at Turf Moor in 2010.
Kane had a hat trick in the most recent meeting, a 3-0 win for Spurs on Dec. 23.
Per Bet365, Spurs are whopping 2/11 favourites to avoid a letdown and claim all three points, while Burnley are 18/1 underdogs to post back-to-back wins. The odds of the teams splitting the points are a somewhat 7/1 longshot.
Even with Burnley’s improved defensive play the last two matches, oddsmakers are confident the Lilywhites have the class to carry most, if not all, of the 2.5 goal threshold. The odds are 4/9 of clearing that mark compared to 7/4 for staying under that amount. There are also 4/6 odds of there being at least one clean sheet compared to 11/10 odds both teams put up at least a “1” on the Wembley scoreboard.
Unsurprisingly, Kane leads the line for first goal-scorer options at 2/1, comfortably ahead of understudy Llorente (7/2). Son and Moura are both 4/1 options, followed by Dele Alli (5/1), Lamela (11/2) and Eriksen (6/1). There are another three Lilywhites before finding the first Burnley player as Wood, Barnes and Matej Vydra are all 14/1 picks to make it 0-1.
Kane is a staggering 2/5 pick to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Llorente is also better than even money at 4/5. Son and Moura are also in that group at 10/11, while Alli is just off that standard at 6/5. The playmakers Lamela (13/10) and Eriksen (6/4) are also strong options. For the Clarets, Barnes, Wood, and Vydra are 15/4 options, and Sam Vokes is another tick back at 9/2.
I get the desire to want this to be a competitive match. Burnley look to have finally turned a corner in terms of getting a disappointing season to kick on, and Spurs expended a staggering amount of energy and fight to get that point at Barcelona and are not 100 percent on the back line and so on and so forth.
Sometimes, though, a good offence is a better defence, and that is the case for the Lilywhites. Burnley will be disciplined and will be difficult to break down their two banks of four, but what they are not going to have is a noticeable amount of possession with the ball.
Dyche can claim his side will be adventurous in this match, but that is an “I’ll believe it when I see it” claim for the Clarets, especially if their most creative player (Defour) and best crosser (Gudmundsson) are struggling to be match fit.
For all the hue and cry of Spurs not signing anyone this past summer (note: this space was among those skeptical), the 25 players Pochettino has on his roster are all players who can contribute. Moura and Son are interchangeable, as are Lamela and Eriksen, and there is little drop-off to the expected starting pair in this match at the Premier League level. And having Alli in support in the middle makes them better.
There may be some concern in rebuilding Walker-Peters’ confidence after that man vs. boy goal by Dembele at the Nou Camp, but that is a concern for another day since he must play given the injuries to Trippier and Aurier. The 21-year-old will play until one or both of them are healthy, and will be an important piece of the holiday fixtures.
It will likely take a half for Tottenham to run through their gears, but as long as they maintain possession of the ball, there will be little for Burnley to do but harass and try to hit on the counter. And that will lead to a lack of opportunities that will allow Spurs to stay in the title hunt.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 2, Burnley 0.
OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 17 PREVIEWS:
Huddersfield Town (2-4-10) vs. Newcastle United (3-4-9)
Wolverhampton (6-4-6) vs. Bournemouth (7-2-7)
Manchester City (13-2-1) vs. Everton (6-6-4)
Liverpool (13-3-0) vs. Manchester United (7-5-4)