Robbed of a Champions League place by Chelsea’s unexpected triumph in Munich in May, Tottenham Hotspur begin their Europa League campaign at home to Italy’s Lazio on Thursday (8.05pm, BST), the first match of a group that also features Maribor of Slovenia and Panathinaikos of Greece.
Spurs coach Andre Villas-Boas previously won the Europa League in his sparkling debut season at the helm of FC Porto in 2010/11.
He is likely to take the challenge of Europe’s secondary club competition much more seriously that his predecessor Harry Redknapp, who considered it little more than an annoyance.
Under Redknapp, Spurs were eliminated at the group stage of last year’s competition, but there is likely to be greater hunger about their performances this year, with a number of players vying for a first team spot and keen to prove their worth to Villas-Boas.
Among those in contention for a starting role on Thursday will be French international goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, defenders Michael Dawson and Steven Caulker, midfielders Tom Huddlestone, Clint Dempsey and Andros Townsend. Striker Emmanuel Adebayor, currently in the process of regaining full fitness after a less than ideal pre-season on the sidelines at Manchester City, is also in the mix.
Spurs recorded their first win of the Villas-Boas reign this past weekend – a 3-1 triumph away to Reading – and there are signs that his ideas and preferred style of play are beginning to filter through to the players. His relief at the second and third goals hitting the back of the net was clear to see and he will hope his team can continue similar form on Thursday.
Their opponents, Lazio, have begun the Serie A season in fine style, recording three wins from three under the stewardship of their new coach Vladimir Petkovic. The Yugoslavian and his team endured a horrible pre-season, but have come together nicely in competitive action, scoring seven times and conceding just once to sit joint top at this early stage of the league campaign.
Key to their strong start has been the glittering form of Brazilian playmaker Hernanes. Involved in all three goals – scoring twice – in the win over Chievo at the weekend, his silky dribbling, comprehensive passing range and powerful shooting is at the heart of most of Lazio’s best play.
Hernanes appears likely to start in what will most probably be a strong away eleven. Petkovic has indicated that his team will travel to London “to win the match,” but acknowledged that Spurs will attack from the first whistle and that his side will have to be alert during the early exchanges to avoid going behind.
Petkovic has previous experience of being overrun at White Hart Lane. He was in charge of the Young Boys side who gave Spurs an almighty fright in their Champions League qualifying round encounter at the start of the 2010/11 season, winning 3-2 in Switzerland having been three up within half an hour. Spurs responded with a 4-0 drubbing of Petkovic’s charges in London, starting strongly and scoring twice before half-time.
Tottenham were one up within 20 minutes against Reading at the weekend and also began their home match against West Bromwich Albion with a great deal of purpose, albeit without finding the net until much later in the match. They will again come out of the traps quickly on Thursday.
Spurs v Lazio Betting Tips Verdict
Lazio have proved to be pretty solid defensively so far this season and even if they do concede once it will not necessarily herald the opening of the proverbial floodgates. We’d fancy the away side to keep the score tight, hoping a moment of magic from Hernanes will yield a goal and a valuable away point.
- With this in mind, backing Lazio +1 goal on the Asian Handicap @ 21/40 with Bet365 would appear a good shout. If they draw or win then the bet is a winner. If they lose by just one goal your stake is returned
- Back Tottenham to score before the 44th minute @ 5/6 with Bet365 on their ‘time of first home goal’ market.