Tottenham Hotspur will be aiming to advance to the third round of the UEFA Europa League qualifying stages when they take on Bulgarian side Lokomotiv Plovdiv.

After a disappointing start to the 2020/21 season in the Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur will be aiming to begin their UEFA Europa League campaign on a winning note, when they face off against Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the second qualifying round at Stadion Lokomotiv on Thursday evening.

After a tumultuous 2019/20 season which saw them finish sixth in the league, Tottenham began Jose Mourinho’s first full-season in charge of the club with a a 1-0 defeat to Everton at home this past weekend. Entering the Europa League in the qualifying phase, the Portuguese tactician will be hoping that his team is able to shrug off the cobwebs from the defeat and plow through to the next round.

Lokomotiv Plovdiv, on the other hand, started in the first round of the qualifiers, where they defeated Montenegrin outfit Iskra 1-0. Hosting a team of Tottenham’s stature will be a huge occasion for the club, as admitted by manager Bruno Akrapovic, they will be looking to cause a major upset. And the fact that they have won four of their last five games will only serve to boost their confidence.

The winner on Thursday evening will be drawn against Romania’s Botoşani or Macdeonia’s Shkëndija in the third round qualifiers. And ahead of this meeting from Plovdiv, Bulgaria, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Lokomotiv Plovdiv

The Bulgarian outfit has no major roster issues heading into the big game against Tottenham, apart from David Malembana, who is out injured. Manager Akrapovic is unlikely to make any changes to the side that lost to Ludogorets in the last game, with the home team expected to continue in a 3-5-2 formation.

Martin Lukov ought to be the man in goal and can expect a busy night going up against the likes of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. He will be shielded by a three-man backline comprising of Milos Petrovic, Dinis Almeida and Lucas Masoero. Birsent Karagaren is likely to slot in as the right wing-back, with Momchil Tsvetanov on the opposite flank.

Petar Vitanov will hold the fort in the middle of the park and will have support coming from Parvizdzhon Umarbayev. The third midfield slot should be taken up by Lucas Salinas, who will be given the licence to push forward and create chances for the strikers.

Captain Dimitar Iliev, who scored the winning goal in the previous qualifying round, ought to start in attack. He will have Ante Aralica as his partner in the two-pronged strike force, with Kenan Muslimovic an option from the bench.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Lukov; Petrovic, Masoero, Almeida; Karagaren, Umarbayev, Vitanov, Salinas Tsvetanov; Iliev, Aralica

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham have been handed a boost as Giovani Lo Celso is fit and available for selection, after missing the Everton game. However, they will be without Japhet Tanganga and Serge Aurier, with the latter picking up a knock in training. Dele Alli has been left behind in England, amid speculations that all is not well between him and Mourinho.

Dele Alli has been left behind in London by Mourinho (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Dele Alli has been left behind in London by Mourinho (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

There should be a few changes to the side that lost against the Toffees this past weekend. Joe Hart, who arrived on a free transfer this summer, is in line to make his debut for Tottenham, replacing Hugo Lloris in goal.

Hart will be shielded by the central defensive pairing of Davinson Sanchez and Eric Dier, with the former replacing Toby Alderweireld. Aurier’s injury means Matt Doherty should continue at right-back, while youngster Ryan Sessegnon is in line to start at left-back.

Tanguy Ndombele will not be starting, as was confirmed by Mourinho, meaning Moussa Sissoko is likely to partner Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the middle of the park. Youngster Harvey White could get some minutes from the bench. The fit-again Lo Celso is expected to slot in as the No.10 and provide the creative influence for Spurs.

Steven Bergwijn, who did not start against Everton, should get the nod on the right flank ahead of Lucas Moura. However, there is no looking past Son Heung-min on the left-wing, while star striker Harry Kane should spearhead the Tottenham attack.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Hart; Doherty, Sanchez, Dier, Sessegnon; Sissoko, Hojbjerg; Bergwijn, Lo Celso, Son; Kane

Key Stats

  • Tottenham Hotspur have lost just two of their last ten fixtures across all competitions (5W D3).
  • Lokomotiv Plovdiv have played five efBet Liga games already this season and are currently sitting sixth after picking up nine points from a possible 15. They have a 100% record at home this season (2 wins in 2 games).
  • The defeat against Everton this past weekend brought an end to Tottenham’s six-game unbeaten run.
  • Lokomotiv Plovdiv have lost just one of their previous five outings in all competitions. However, that defeat came in their most recent fixture against Ludogorets.
  • Tottenham striker Harry Kane has 10 goals and one assist in 31 appearances in the UEFA Europa League so far in his career.

Player to Watch

Giovani Lo Celso

Lo Celso will be key for Tottenham to unlock the hosts' defence (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Lo Celso will be key for Tottenham to unlock the hosts’ defence (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The lack of creativity was a major issue for Tottenham in the defeat to Everton last weekend. The players on the field looked devoid of any sort of ideas to carve open the Toffees’ backline, which meant Harry Kane was starved for chances for majority of the game.

The return of Giovani Lo Celso, however, should help address that issue. The Argentine did not have the most debut campaign after having made the switch to Tottenham last summer, finishing with two goals and three assists. But, he did impress during the post-lockdown period, with his eye for a defence-splitting pass and contribution off the ball as well.

Lo Celso boasts an impressive tally of five goals and an assist in seven Europa League matches till date in his career. He will be hoping to add to that tally when Spurs take the field in Bulgaria.

Prediction

Lokomotiv Plovdiv 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur

Lokomotiv Plovdiv have already played a number of matches in the new season, whereas Tottenham have played just once, which does give the hosts an advantage. However, the quality that Jose Mourinho’s side possesses, even if he rotates his squad, should be more than enough to eke out a victory in Bulgaria and progress to the next round.

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