Another European night at White Hart Lane with Tottenham Hotspur, in theory, on the verge of qualification to the next round of the Europa League. In form striker Jermain Defoe has called on the crowd to really back the team ahead of the Group J decider with Panathinaikos.
With the 1882tfc movement set to be in full force again, the England international is likely to get his wish. Spurs just need to avoid defeat to secure qualification to the last 32, while a win, coupled with a possible Lazio loss to Maribor in Slovenia, would see the North London side edge through as group winners.
It’s a far cry from the form the club showed in Europe earlier this season, regardless of Andre Villas-Boas proclaiming he is going to take the Europa League seriously. Three draws from their first three outings saw many doubt whether Spurs could qualify to the next round.
Fortunately, results elsewhere went their way and despite securing a 0-0 draw in the highly controversial encounter with Serie A outfit Lazio, they look set to secure a place in the knockout stages, barring any major mishaps against the Greek side tonight.
There are those that feel qualification to the next round wouldn’t be ideal. As proven in the past, the Europa League can have a detrimental effect on teams, such is the rigorous schedule and the possibility to travelling to the far reaches of Eastern Europe often seeing clubs across the continent see their domestic form drop as a result of the requirements of success.
The same could well happen to Spurs, regardless of the recent Premiership form. Three consecutive wins has seen Villas-Boas’ side push up the table to fourth, with the form of those around them suffering significantly.
With that in mind, a quarter of the fanbase have come around to the idea of dropping out of the competition altogether to focus on the domestic form, ala Harry Redknapp. However, with the quality of the players available to the young tactician, there is every possibility that Spurs could land their first piece of European silverware since 1984.
The competition on the way to Amsterdam is likely to be fierce, with the likes of Napoli, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Atletico Madrid all guaranteed a place in the next round of the Europa League. On top of that, with Chelsea, who Spurs can’t play in the next round, Zenit St. Petersburg and Ajax all dropping out of the Champions League following their third place finish in their respective groups, the route to Holland is going to be that much harder.
But that’s what should spur the North London side on to succeed. There is absolutely no point in being labelled the best unless you can beat the best. Furthermore, Spurs have often upped their game when up against teams that will pose a genuine threat to the side.
Judging from Villas-Boas’ squad selections in this year’s competition, the 35-year-old is still keen on landing the trophy he picked up when in charge of FC Porto back in 2011. It’s certainly a far cry from the Redknapp era, where the veteran boss would regularly base his Thursday night squad selection around youth team and fringe players.
The 35-year-old is likely to persist with a similar system against Panathinaikos tonight, bar the injuries incurred following the 3-0 win over Fulham. Despite Gareth Bale and Michael Dawson joining Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto in the treatment room, Spurs still have enough strength in depth to secure the result they need to qualify for the next round of the Europa League.
Should a place in the knockout stages be attained, any team the club come up against will provide a staunch test, which is something that I, personally, welcome. Winning a major European trophy is never going to be an easy feat and the sooner the players come up against a side that will provide a tough examination, the better.
Perhaps it can be said that Spurs should’ve qualified for the next round already, having been tagged early favourites to win the competition outright following their group draw. As one of the teams in Pot A following their Premiership finish last season, a favourable position was always going to be a distinct possibility.
While it may come down to the final game of Group J to confirm their fate, Spurs are still one of the stronger candidates to lift the trophy next year. Sweep Panathinaikos to one side tonight, and it’s likely that those watching will stand up and take notice of the Premier League outfit and come to realise that they’re a prime contender to battle their way to Amsterdam in May.