Tottenham manager, Andre Villas-Boas, is faced with a selection dilemma for the Europa League match against NK Maribor at White Hart Lane on Thursday evening. Spurs ineffective form with three draws in the opening three group matches has left Villas-Boas with difficult decisions ahead of the match. Normally, he would look on this match against the Slovenian side as a game to win to strengthen Spurs’ position in Group J. A win would take Spurs above Maribor and into second place with two matches remaining. Spurs, however, face a challenging match on Sunday lunchtime against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
At the outset of this season’s Europa League, Villas-Boas declared himself to be a fan of the competition which he won while manager of Porto, regarding it as an important part of the learning process for the Tottenham players. In September, prior to the opening game against Lazio, Villas-Boas let his views on the Europa League be known,
“This time it would be wonderful to win it again for Tottenham. It’s an extremely important competition after the disappearance of the Cup Winners’ Cup and it should be treated with respect.”
Tottenham’s mounting injury problems, especially in central midfield, are adding to the manager’s dilemma in deciding how strong a team he can afford to send out against Maribor. It was at a similar stage in last season’s Europa League that a weakened Tottenham team lost to Rubin Kazan in Russia and then lost their next home game to PAOK Salonika which virtually eliminated Spurs from the competition.
Villas-Boas has a delicate balancing act in his team selection.
- Losing Run: Villas-Boas knows that he is under pressure already. He will be conscious that with Tottenham being knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Norwich City last week and then losing to Wigan on Saturday, that he can not afford to lose for a third consecutive match which would also mean a third successive defeat at White Hart Lane. Home supporters showed their frustrations on Saturday and the manager knows that he needs a win to help regain their support. On the other hand, Manchester City are awaiting his Tottenham team on Sunday and he can not afford to risk any additional injuries that could occur during the Europa League match. With Manchester City playing in the Champions League this evening they will have an additional two days for recovery and preparations before the Premier League clash.
- Injuries: Tottenham’s lengthening injury list is a major concern for Villas-Boas. Those with long-term injuries, Scott Parker, Youines Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are not ready to return while Mousa Dembele has not played since the last international break. Jake Livermore was injured in the Cup defeat at Norwich and Sandro had to come off during the first half against Wigan on Saturday. It was following his withdrawal that Spurs lost any control that they had in the central midfield.
- Fixture Congestion: While Tottenham had been the better team in the previous match against Maribor, they conceded an unexpected goal late in the first half and then had to work hard to find an equaliser. On that form, Spurs should be able to put out a balanced team to defeat the Slovenian team but Villas-Boas will be wary of risking too many first choice players for fear of additional injuries. A draw would maintain the keep both teams in the battle for second place in the Group but Spurs face a trip to Rome to play the leaders, Lazio in the next match before finishing with a home game against Panathinaikos. The draw would thus push the determining games of the Group to the end of November and early December but over the next two months Spurs already have a very hectic schedule with matches against Arsenal, West Ham United, Liverpool, Fulham and Everton ahead of the Christmas and New Year holiday fixtures.
Andre Villas-Boas finds himself ‘between a rock and a hard place’ and whatever he decides he will not please everyone. Many Spurs fans were disappointed with Harry Redknapp’s attitude towards the Europa League and the domestic Cup competitions while others have no time for that particular European competition and are only concerned with the Premier League and qualification for the Champions League. They would be quite happy to see the Spurs Under-21 team sent out on Thursday evening. Last week William Gallas gave an insight into Villas-Boas thinking saying that the manager wanted to win every match he played.
“What is good about the manager is that he is a competitor and a warrior. He wants to win everything so when we have a meeting before every game, he always says the same thing. He says just to win, win, win and try to win all the competitions.”
With such thinking from Villas-Boas, he may well select a stronger team than some would want with many of the players who lost against Wigan and who will be expecting to play against City on Sunday starting against Maribor on Thursday evening in the Europa League.