Tottenham’s third Europa League Group J match takes them to Slovenia for the first time to play NK Maribor, a team they have never played before. Maribor are second in the group with three points one behind leaders Lazio who defeated them in Rome in the previous match. They won their opening game at home to Panathinaikos by 3 – 0 so will be dangerous opponents tonight. Tottenham have two points from draws with Lazio and Panathinaikos. This is a match that Spurs could do with winning to strengthen their position in the group but a draw could be an acceptable result although it would probably leave them fighting it out for the second qualifying place from the group.
Jermain Defoe on a Mission in Maribor
The Tottenham squad which travelled to Slovenia yesterday is without Gareth Bale, Mousa Dembele, Brad Friedel and Emmanuel Adebayor.
The full squad is: Lloris, Cudicini, Walker, Naughton, Vertonghen, Dawson, Gallas, Caulker, Smith, Lennon, Dempsey, Sandro, Huddlestone, Sigurdssen, Defoe, Townsend, Falque, Parrett and Livermore.
Michael Dawson didn’t train with the squad last night while Adebayor didn’t travel due to a slight back injury.
Hugo Lloris will replace Friedel in goal and Dawson may start, if fit. Kyle Naughton may be given an opportunity to show that he has recovered fully from injury at left back with Jan Vertonghen returning to central defence or getting a rest as he has appeared in every match apart from the opening match at Newcastle. Jermain Defoe will probably start as he looks to add to his 200th career goal and a goal tonight would take him into joint second place on the Spurs’ all time scorers’ list in European competitions along with Alan Gilzean and Martin Peters on thirteen goals.
Maribor made an impressive start in the Europa League group with an emphatic three goal defeat of Panathinaikos. Maribor managed to do what Spurs failed to achieve against the Greek side, taking advantage of the demoralised and dis-spirited side. They followed that with a single goal defeat to Lazio in Rome. They denied the Italian team for over an hour although they were grateful for the assistance of the woodwork in the first half. The home side finally managed to find a way through on 62 minutes. Lazio later missed a penalty after Maribor had Jovan Vidovič sent off.
Maribor are currently top of the Slovenian PrvaLiga with a nine point advantage over second place. They have played 14 matches and suffered only one defeat – a single goal loss at Triglav, at the beginning of October, the weekend after their loss in Rome. Their record shows 11 wins and two draws, scoring 29 goals with only 7 conceded. Their leading goal scorer is the Brazilian, Marcos Tavares, who has 10 goals – 6 in the League and 4 in Europe. Striker, Robert Berić has scored 8 times, four in the League and four in Europe while two midfield players have 5 goals each – Goran Cvijanović and Dejan Mezga.
As last season’s Champions, Maribor qualified for the early rounds of the Champions League. They were comfortable winners in the first two rounds defeating teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Luxembourg before losing 1 – 3 on aggregate to Dinamo Zagreb in the Play-off Round. They lost the away leg 1 – 2 and suffered a one goal defeat in the home match.
Last season they lost out at the 3rd Qualifying Round of the Champions League to Maccabi Haifa but then defeated Glasgow Rangers in the Play-off round for the Europa League. They won 2 – 1 at home before drawing 1 – 1 in Glasgow. The Europa League Group draw put them with Birmingham City who defeated them in both matches – 2 – 1 in Maribor and 1 – 0 in Birmingham. They finished bottom of the Group with only one point from a home draw with Braga.
This is a match that Tottenham can win to claim second place in the Group but they must show total commitment and be more ruthless that they showed in the previous match in Greece when they let a poor Panathinaikos team back into the match in the second half and paid the penalty by conceding a late goal. Andre Villas-Boas has stated his intent to compete in the Europa League and will be expecting the team to recover quickly from the disappointment of the home defeat to Chelsea on Saturday.