Tottenham Hotspur will be looking to move a step closer towards securing qualification for the Europa League knockout rounds when they host Ludogorets on Thursday.
Tottenham Hotspur are in red hot form at the moment, notably overtaking Leicester City at the top of the Premier League table with a fantastic win over Manchester City on the weekend. And on Thursday, they will have the opportunity to secure a comfortable position in Group J of the UEFA Europa League when they lock horns with Ludogorets at home.
Prior to the start of the campaign, Jose Mourinho had always stressed the importance of the Europa League, which gives the opportunity for teams to secure a direct place in the Champions League. While one may think that the Portuguese tactician’s stance may change following a blistering start to the league campaign, it won’t be surprising to see Spurs gunning for the trophy at all.
Ludogorets, in contrast, head into this game with little to no hope. The Bulgarian giants have lost all of their opening three matches in the Europa League so far, meaning they are dawdling at the bottom of the group. They also have a poor record against English sides and were beaten by Spurs 3-1 in the reverse fixture earlier this month.
However, that is not an excuse for Tottenham to appear complacent as Ludogorets are more than capable of causing an upset. It is something Mourinho cannot afford, knowing any mishap on Thursday could potentially ruin their chances of achieving a comfortable pathway into the knockout stages of the competition.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the two teams ahead of this crucial fixture in the UEFA Europa League this midweek.
Team News & Tactics
Despite the win against Manchester City, Mourinho suffered a blow on the weekend when key defender Toby Alderweireld picked up a late injury. He has been ruled out for two to four weeks.
The Belgian’s absence, combined with the fact that new signing Joe Rodon is ineligible to feature as he is yet to be registered into the Europa League squad means Mourinho could face a selection dilemma in central defence. At the end of the day, he might be forced to deploy Eric Dier once again, while Davinson Sanchez is guaranteed to replace Alderweireld.
On the bright side of things, however, Matt Doherty is back in contention after missing the last game due to Covid-19 protocol. The Irishman might replace Serge Aurier at right-back, while Sergio Reguilon should be given a breather, paving the way for Ben Davies to start on the opposite flank.
There could be two changes in midfield as well, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, in particular, getting a breather, making way for Harry Winks. The Englishman is set to partner Moussa Sissoko while Giovani Lo Celso’s impressive cameo against Manchester City means he is likely to be rewarded with a start as well.
Mourinho is more than expected to recall Gareth Bale in the starting eleven. The Welshman is set to start at the expense of Son Heung-Min, who is likely to be rested for the upcoming Premier League fixture against Chelsea on the weekend.
Bale could operate along with Lucas Moura in the wider attacking positions, while the Tottenham attack is set to spearheaded by new signing Carlos Vinicius. However, we could see both Son and Harry Kane make second-half appearances.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Hart; Doherty, Sanchez, Dier, Davies; Sissoko, Winks, Lo Celso; Lucas, Vinicius, Bale
Ludogorets manager Stanislav Genchev won’t have to deal with any fresh injury-related absentees, although he is still missing out on the services of both Higinio Marin and Wanderson.
— PFC Ludogorets 1945 (@Ludogorets1945) November 25, 2020
The Bulgarian outfit could stick to their tried and tested 4-4-2 formation with two banks of four covering the goalkeeper Plamen Iliev. It is quite a conventional tactic when dealing with any strong opposition, especially a team like Tottenham who boast a truly world-class attacking unit.
The visitors are also expected to defend deep, in order to prevent players like Bale and Vinicius from properly utilising their pace. In addition, midfielders like Sissoko are also better without the ball than they are during possession phases. However, the central midfield duo of Stephane Badji and Anicet could still play a key role in the second line of press.
They could expect additional support from the two wide attackers as Ludogorets might opt for a narrow formation. It does allow Spurs full-backs to venture forward more frequently, but it does offer better security inside the box. A similar tactic was used by West Brom and it almost worked out for the Baggies earlier this month.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Iliev; Cicinho, Verdon, Terziev, Nedyalkov; Tekpetey, Badji, Anicet, Yankov; Keseru, Manu
- Tottenham have won both of their previous meetings with Bulgarian oppositions, with this the first time they’ve hosted a Bulgarian side.
- Ludogorets have lost four of their five meetings with English sides in all competitions, conceding 16 goals in the process. Their only previous visit to London ended in a 6-0 defeat to Arsenal in October 2016.
- None of Tottenham’s last 16 home games in European competition has ended in a draw, with Spurs winning 11 and losing five. There have been 62 goals netted in these 16 games, with Tottenham scoring 40 goals while conceding 22.
- Ludogorets have conceded four goals via set-pieces this season in the UEFA Europa League, the most by any side.
- Ludogorets have faced the most shots of any side in Europa League this season (62) while only five sides have had more attempts at goal than Tottenham (50).
Player to Watch
🇧🇷 Carlos Vinicius on José Mourinho:
🤝“I remember he called me and said: 'So, are you ready!?'
— Last Word On Spurs🎙 (@LastWordOnSpurs) November 18, 2020
Carlos Vinicius has been an unlucky fellow since joining Tottenham in the summer. His impact in the side has been overshadowed by the presence of star-studded attacking lineup that includes the likes of Bale, Son and Kane among many others. However, he is still believed to be greatly trusted by Mourinho.
And on Thursday, the Brazilian striker will have the opportunity to repay his manager’s faith as he takes on Ludogorets. The 25-year-old has already impressed in the Europa League a couple of times this season while he was also quite influential after coming on as a substitute against West Brom, just before the international break.
A centre-forward by trade, Vinicius is a hard-working attacker, who can make intelligent movement across the final third. His versatility could be ideal for someone like Bale as the Welshman does prefer to get into central areas of the pitch. So it might be wise to bet on Carlos Vinicius as the game-changer this midweek.
Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Ludogorets
Tottenham Hotspur have been very solid at home this season and despite the depleted defensive unit, it’s very unlikely they will concede any goals against Ludogorets. On the contrary, we might witness the return of form of star players like Bale and Lo Celso, who have already done a great job over the past week or so. Expect the hosts to secure a comfortable 2-0 win.