After the eventful draw on Sunday on top of their already poor form, Tottenham are travelling to the Rajko Mitic Stadium, Serbia, mentally drained with a tough task ahead. Red Star have won all three of their fixtures since their heavy loss against Tottenham last time out in the UCL, scoring ten and conceding just one. Although one may argue that Tottenham face tougher opposition week on week domestically, there are important factors which strengthen Red Star in this situation.
Firstly, they are defined by their furiously passionate and ominous home support. Many of you may have seen menacing images of packed crowds before, with red flairs roaring along with their voices, and flags rippling in the mist. They are no joke and should not be underestimated. As exemplified by Liverpool’s 2-0 loss away to Red Star previously in the UCL Group Stages, Red Star’s home support not only boosts the team, but also intimidates the opposition. Tottenham must be mentally prepared for a battle.
Players Tottenham must watch out for and do their best to contain are Marko Marin and the younger Mateo Garcia. Marin, a former Chelsea player, is a creative midfielder with quick feet, whilst Garcia has had dangerous attacking glimpses so far in the UCL. Both are dynamic, and Marin especially should not be allowed time on the ball as he can deliver quality and Tottenham have suffered in recent weeks by not coming out quickly to press early deliveries.
The list of Spurs players who have not travelled is: Serge Aurier, Erik Lamela, Jan Vertonghen and obviously Hugo Lloris, who is still suffering after his elbow injury. Lamela (thigh) and Vertonghen (hamstring) are side-lined with injuries, however I believe Aurier is simply being rested. In addition to this list, it seems Winks has also not travelled, but no news has been released as to why.
With Aurier and the out-of-favour Kyle Walker-Peters not travelling my suspicion is that Foyth will start at right back, however there is also the rogue possibility that Pochettino throws Davinson Sanchez back into the fold at full back – something I, quite frankly, do not want to see. This is no insult to Sanchez, merely an understandable observation that he is an astute centre back and that is where his 6’2” frame should stay. He is unaccustomed to the role of right back.
Hopefully, with Vertonghen’s absence, Mauricio Pochettino will play Sanchez and
Toby Alderweireld in the heart of defence. I thought prior to writing this that Son,
due to a domestic three-game ban, would logically start against Red Star. However, his red card against Everton has since been rescinded and I wonder whether Pochettino might now rest him after his traumatic weekend, as he is now available for selection for the upcoming domestic fixtures.
In this case I believe we will start Eriksen, with Alli then playing as ten with Kane. Speaking of Eriksen. Should he really start? His statistics against Everton were woeful. No attempted take-ons, shots, interceptions, chances created or tackles made. And to add insult to injury, he lost possession sixteen times. This comes after a string of uninspired performances by the Dane and perhaps this is one more chance for him to show he still wants to fight for the club, with Lamela injured and Giovanni Lo Celso lacking minutes.
I believe Lo Celso is somewhat a victim of his own versatility. Being able to play deep midfield, attacking midfield, and even along the front three, even if Lo Celso is a better option than Eriksen at the moment, he is seemingly held back on the bench as an option anywhere that is needed.
A player which I could see getting minutes against Red Star is Dier. With Winks seemingly left at home, there is a possibility that Ndombele and Sissoko line up as wide centre midfielders in the diamond, with Dier at the base. If not, I would imagine Sissoko and Ndombele start as a dynamic defensive midfield pairing, allowing one of Lucas or Son to start in attack. Dier has always played with fire and desire in a Spurs shirt, which is exactly what we need to bring into our performances going forward.
This game is going to be all about heart. Red Star are a team Tottenham should beat on paper, it requires the Lilywhites to turn up, chest puffed out, and ready to play with passion. Taking the full three points would be a huge boost in our UCL campaign and would also take some pressure off of Pochettino, who is undeniably walking on thin ice.
As you can tell, the expected line-up for this fixture is tricky to anticipate. With Son possibly not 100% emotionally, Eriksen still in a bad spell of form, and a plethora of players missing, instead of including an expected line-up, I will instead include a line-up I personally would like to see. Could we see the first start for Lo Celso and a rare appearance from Dier?
Some would say this is a risk considering the importance of the game. But at
what point is risk aversion simply stagnation, especially when the results have
been continuously bad? I think risks and changes are what need to be made in
order to come out of this trough.