The cup final before the cup final, the match that could end or extend our season, et cetera, et cetera.
With just three days to go before our Capital One Cup final against Chelsea, we really could not do with an away day in Europe in such a precarious position.
In the first thirty minutes of the first leg, we played some of the best football I had ever seen in my lifetime of supporting Tottenham Hotspur. So ultimately, we would only score once and concede from a sloppy set piece. Typical Tottenham.
We can’t be having any of that tonight. We probably won’t see a lot of the ball at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, and simply have to take our chances when they fall to us. Because of Fiorentina’s seeming unwillingness to keep hold of the ball in the first half at White Hart Lane, we underestimated their following resilience, restricting us from taking an advantage into the second leg.
This trip to Florence is Spurs’s first, but our record in Italy doesn’t exactly make for good reading- we’ve won just once in our last six visits there. However, that win was one of the most famous in the history of the club, as we triumphed 1-0 at Milan in the UEFA Champions League back in 2011.
Our last visit to Italy was also in the Europa League, as Emmanuel Adebayor’s extra-time goal saved us from a humiliating elimination by Inter in 2013- we can’t afford to go an extra thirty minutes this time around.
Whilst we should have beaten West Ham United at the weekend, the last minute equaliser will give us great momentum heading into tonight’s and Sunday’s games. We relied on momentum during a similar run just after Christmas, taking seven points from a possible nine against Leicester City, Manchester United and Chelsea.
Our team has been praised for its fitness this season, which isn’t really what you would associate with the Tottenham Hotspur of the modern day. Fortunately, it has allowed us to excel deep into games and during congested runs. One concern is the after-effect it leaves on players heading into a subsequent game, but with such a big game on the horizon, you’d think professional footballers would be able to handle such a sequence.
The Europa League still remains our most likely chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, with a spot rewarded to the winners of this year’s competition. We are the highest UEFA ranked side left in the Europa League, and there aren’t many teams who I can’t see us beating.
We have a fully fit squad to choose from, but you’d expect some players to be rested ahead of Sunday’s final.
In goal, I expect Hugo Lloris to start such a huge game, especially when we’ll be on the back foot.
Our back four is likely to consist of Kyle Walker, Federico Fazio, Jan Vertonghen and Ben Davies. Walker and Vertonghen are used to starting nearly every game, whilst Fazio will look to impress after Eric Dier’s sloppy weekend performance. Davies shouldn’t be starting over Danny Rose on Sunday, and this appearance is purely to allow our English left back a rest.
Benjamin Stambouli has been absent from the Tottenham team as of late, but I could see both him and fellow Frenchman Etienne Capoue returning to the line up to provide defensive solidity. Nabil Bentaleb will be pushing to start yet again, especially considering how vital he is in midfield for us, but I think Poch will want to keep such an important player under wraps.
On the wings, Erik Lamela and Andros Townsend could start again, as they duel for the right wing spot in Sunday’s team.
Because of his importance to the team, I expect Harry Kane to start, albeit just behind Roberto Soldado. The Spaniard impressed for us in the reverse fixture, and could be on hand to cause mischief in the Fiorentina defence once more.
We need to remain in Europe. Our chances of winning this competition are good, and we can’t afford to fall at this hurdle. We have to score tonight, but we have to keep it equally as tight at the back.
Predicted XI: Lloris; Walker, Fazio, Vertonghen, Davies; Stambouli, Bentaleb; Lamela, Kane, Townsend; Soldado