August 29 2014 Latest news:
By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Tottenham take on Juande Ramos’ Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the last 32 of the Europa League in Ukraine this evening.
After the interminable group stage, this is usually the time when the Europa League becomes more interesting, when it is worth being involved and when the quality of the competition increases.
Last season’s knockout stage was certainly eventful for Tottenham, featuring Mousa Dembele’s last-minute winner in Lyon in the last 32, a 4-4 draw on aggregate and extra-time against Inter Milan in the last 16, and ultimately a penalty shoot-out against FC Basel in the quarter-finals.
Given that Spurs were preparing to face French giants Lyon this time last year, tonight’s clash against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk is somewhat underwhelming.
And, since Manchester City took on Barcelona on Tuesday and Arsenal faced Bayern Munich last night, Spurs’ trip to Ukraine is lacking a bit of stardust.
Dnipro’s ropey pitch won’t help the show either. Tottenham were not allowed to train on the surface yesterday and Tim Sherwood said: “It’s not an ideal situation but sometimes these are things that you have to come up against.
“I just don’t know how bad it is but we won’t be using the pitch as an excuse if we don’t get the result we want.”
The good news is that the Lilywhites have every chance of progressing, and Dnipro boss Juande Ramos has admitted: “Spurs are superior. They’re clear favourites and there’s a very good chance of us getting knocked out.”
He is no doubt aware that Tottenham boast a perfect record in Europe this season, having won all eight of their Europa League games so far.
The Lilywhites were also the joint highest scorers in the group stage with 15 goals, and they had the joint best defensive record, only conceding twice.
Andre Villas-Boas must take the credit for that but, given that Sherwood has lost both of his cup games so far, against West Ham and Arsenal, he will be keen to continue his predecessor’s good work on the continent.
Of course, this is the only cup that Tottenham can realistically win this season, and the trophy cabinet has been bare since Ramos lifted the League Cup in 2008.
Given that Spurs could have been drawn against Lazio, Ajax, Juventus or FC Porto, there is a lot to be said for an easier draw – even if the build-up and the spectacle is less exciting.
After all, Spurs’ epic clash with Inter Milan last season played a big role in their failure to finish in the top four, as they lost both of the ensuing league games, away at Liverpool and, more damagingly, at home against Fulham.
That costly reverse against the Cottagers was largely because Villas-Boas started with a number of the players who had endured 120 minutes just three days previously, and Sherwood will need to make better use of his squad.
He has already left key players at home – Hugo Lloris, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kyle Walker, Aaron Lennon, Mousa Dembele and Younes Kaboul – while calling up a handful of young players from the development squad.
Again, the fact that Spurs are facing Dnipro rather than one of the sides who have dropped down from the Champions League aids Sherwood’s cause – a weakened side is more likely to get the job done.
The Lilywhites are also taking on a team who have not played since mid-December due to their winter break, which makes them well-rested but probably rusty – and Dnipro have never advanced beyond the last 32 of the UEFA Cup or Europa League.
Yet it would be foolish to write the hosts off. The last time Spurs travelled to Ukraine they lost 2-0 to Shakhtar Donetsk in 2008 – albeit with a weakened team under Harry Redknapp, who was fighting relegation at the time – and the man who hit the opening goal that night, Yevhen Seleznyov, is now in the Dnipro ranks.
There are few familiar faces in Ramos’ squad, but Liverpool tried to sign Ukraine winger Yevhen Konoplyanka for £12million in the January transfer window.
Striker Nikola Kalinic joined Dnipro from Blackburn Rovers – and Vlad Chiriches played with his fellow Romanian defender Alexandru Vlad at both FC International Curtea de Arges and FC Pandurii Targu Jiu back in his homeland.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs