The wait is over. The time has come. After five, long, arduous matches of frustrating football, Tottenham Hotspur grabbed their first win of the season on Sunday.
Despite a poor performance, Ryan Mason was on hand to slot home Erik Lamela’s delicious through ball. Many have claimed the victory was undeserved, but after some good performances this season with nothing to show for, we won’t be complaining about the manner of this triumph.
With the proverbial monkey off the team’s back, some of our squad players will now be looking to impress Mauricio Pochettino, as we face Azerbaijani outfit Qarabag in the first group stage game of the UEFA Europa League.
It’s been a dismal week for English sides in Europe, with only Chelsea so far claiming a victory. So, it’s up to Spurs to save England from dropping a coefficient ranking (apologies if I’ve jinxed this).
Glamour ties on the European stage are nice and all, but facing the backstreet minnows has become an annual occurrence since our last venture into the UEFA Champions League. Shamrock Rovers, Maribor, Tromso, Sheriff, Asteras Tripolis – Qarabag add themselves to this fine list.
So who exactly are our obscure opponents?
Qarabag Futbol Klubu were founded in 1951, simply in order for a football team to play at the newly built Aghdam City Stadium. Nicknamed “The Horsemen”, Qarabag went through a series of financial struggles and team names before becoming the recognisable team they are today (ha).
In the modern day, Qarabag are by far the richest and domestically dominant side in Azerbaijan, whilst also being the only club from the nation to break waves in Europe (well, at least by their standards). Last season, Qarabag recorded a famous 1-0 over eventual finalists Dnipro in the group stages of the Europa League.
Switching the focus back to Spurs, and club captain Hugo Lloris has urged the team to progress further in Europe, whilst also reiterating he is happy at the club.
“Of course I am happy here. I have already answered that type of questions. The only thing I can say today is I am happy at Tottenham and I will do my best to help the team get the best results possible.
“I expect more from Tottenham (in the Europa League and I expect more from me as well. We need to go as far as possible in the competition.
“We know it is a trophy to get and you play only for winning. There is also a possibility to get to the Champions League if you go to the final and win the final.”
Despite consistently appearing on paper as one of the competition’s strongest sides, our record in the Europa League is nothing short of abysmal – just once have we progressed beyond the last 16 since 2008. Now, with German giants Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04 amongst our competitors for the title this year, we’ll have to finally treat Thursday night fixtures with respect.
Despite this, I fully expect Mauricio Pochettino to play a second string team this time around, with important games against Crystal Palace and Arsenal on the horizon.
Michel Vorm could be given his second start this season, following up from his blameless performance in our 1-0 loss at Manchester United.
In defence, Kieran Trippier and Kevin Wimmer are expected to make their competitive debuts in lilywhite, whilst Federico Fazio could be called upon for the first time this season.
With injuries plaguing many of our midfielders, don’t be surprised to see Eric Dier and Dele Alli starting in the centre of the park. Clinton N’Jie is a doubt, so Andros Townsend and Erik Lamela could start on the wings, whilst Alex Pritchard faces a race against time in order to gain fitness.
Up top, Poch has implied Heung-Min Son could be given a chance as a “number 9”, insisting that is his natural position.
Ensuring Qarabag leave London empty handed shouldn’t be too hard…
…Then again, we are Tottenham Hotspur.
Predicted XI: Vorm; Trippier, Fazio, Wimmer, Rose; Dier, Alli; Townsend, Lamela, Pritchard; Son