Following draws in each of their two Europa League matches to date, Tottenham Hotspur will be hoping for victory when they travel to Slovenia to face FK Maribor on Thursday (6pm BST).
Spurs suffered their first defeat in ten matches when they lost 4-2 at home to Chelsea on Saturday and will be keen to regain some confidence with a good result in Maribor ahead of a winnable match away to Southampton in their next Premier League fixture.
Coach Andre Villas-Boas has sent out strong sides in both of the club’s Europa League fixtures to date, perhaps hoping to make a positive start in order to be able to rest first-team players in the latter part of the group stage. That plan has not worked out as hoped and he therefore faces a difficult balancing job in the remainder of the group stage.
Tottenham dominated at home to Lazio in their first match in the competition, but two disallowed goals and a strong rearguard action from the Italians saw the match finish 0-0. They led away to Panathinaikos last time out but put in an unduly deferential second half performance, eventually conceding the inevitable late equaliser.
However, with no one team running away with the group, two victories in the double header with Maribor would put Spurs in an excellent position to qualify for the knockout stages.
Villas-Boas could elect to include the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor – if rumours of his desire to leave the club just two months after joining permanently are unfounded – and Michael Dawson in his starting eleven for Thursday’s match, with it also probable that Gareth Bale will get a run out of sorts after missing the defeat to Chelsea to attend the birth of his first child. Andros Townsend and Jake Livermore will also hope to be in contention for a start.
It will then be a fairly strong Spurs team even if Villas-Boas elects to rest some first-team regulars and it may well need to be against a Maribor side who have lost just once in 22 home matches in 2012.
That statistic may say more for the quality of the Slovenian league than for any incredible proficiency on Maribor’s part – indeed they have lost just four times in their last 50 domestic league matches – but they did perform impressively in defeating Panathinaikos 3-0 in their opening Europa League game.
Brazilian striker Marcos Tavares was a constant menace and Macedonian international Agim Ibraimi scored a nicely taken goal to round off a neat, inventive performance. In conjunction with the promising young Slovenian forward Robert Beric they formed a decent attack. Maribor were also strong in defence, conceding just two shots on target, seven in total.
In a further display of defensive proficiency, Maribor held out until after the hour mark in a tight 1-0 defeat away to Lazio. Experienced goalkeeper Jasmin Handanovic – elder cousin of Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir – marshals a defence that has conceded just seven times in 14 league matches this season, significantly better than the near goal a game they conceded last season.
Maribor have a stronger team than the one that succumbed to five defeats in the group stage of last year’s Europa League, including two to English Championship side Birmingham. There were no significant new signings over the summer, but the group appears to have come together nicely and is performing better as a collective.
Maribor v Spurs Betting Tips Advice
Maribor are clearly a decent side (best priced @ 21/5 – just over 4/1 – at Betvictor to win) but we believe Spurs still have enough to see them off and secure the first win of their Europa League campaign.