Tottenham Champions League Group Stage 2018/19 Preview

The consensus among Spurs’ fans online before the draw was that an ideal draw would feature a team like Barcelona. The reasoning was that the Champions League is all about pitting the best European teams against each other, which is true, and wanting to see Tottenham test themselves against a European superpower is in the spirt of the club. So, when Spurs were drawn in Group B alongside Barcelona the reaction was positive, and almost all of the comments were about ‘daring to do’ and ‘echoes of glory’.

But after they were joined by PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan the reaction was less confident. Should Spurs be worried about the defending Eredivisie champions and the widely agreed upon best team in pot 4?

Barcelona

Star Player: Lionel Messi

La Liga 2017/18: Champions

Champions League 2017/18: Quarter Finals

The perception around Barcelona is perhaps different to how they actually play. They are still an excellent side but they are not the Tiki-taka playing, free-flowing team that attempt to dominate possession first and score second. Barcelona under Ernesto Valverde typically play a direct style of attacking football, looking to play out from the back, and score goals by interchanging positions and playing quick one touch passes to create openings.

Ousmane Dembélé has settled in to his position alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi and is a player who could cause Spurs serious problems tactically. This season Dembélé seems to have developed an understanding with the experienced South American pairing that, alongside his blinding pace, could expose Spurs’ defensive weaknesses, particularly the lack of pace in the favoured Spurs back 4. Aside from Davinson Sanchez and Serge Aurier – who has probably given away a penalty every time someone gets in behind him – there is not much pace. This could be something Valverde’s side will look to exploit.

Spurs will go into the match-ups against Barcelona without fear, as last season they proved they could hang with Real Madrid and I think Pochettino’s tactics will be similar to the last time he had to face a member of El Clásico. At the Camp Nou I see Spurs playing with a back five and looking to hit the Catalonians on the counter attack. However, I think this season’s Barcelona are better equipped than Real Madrid were to deal with Tottenham parking the bus. It will be a telling test, even more so than the Madrid trip was last season for Tottenham.

At Wembley, I’m sure Pochettino will look to attack Barcelona. They are a team that can be rattled and can definitely be caught out by Spurs. Tottenham will look to isolate the Barcelona fullbacks, who will commit forward, and ultimately aren’t the best defensively. If Pochettino has the team he wants available and fully fit it is a match Spurs can get a result in.

PSV Eindhoven

Star Player: Hirving Lozano

Eredivisie 2017/18: Champions

Champions League 2017/18: Did Not Qualify

The Eredivisie as a league doesn’t get the respect it deserves, most likely because of the hit-and-miss nature of its exported players. For every Luis Suarez and Ruud van Nistelrooy, there’s a Jozy Altidore and Vincent Janssen. But contrary to popular belief, it is a very competitive league and PSV were the best of them last season, and are favourites to retain their title.

Like Barcelona, PSV typically play in a 4-3-3, but contrastingly to the Spanish side PSV will look to play very wide and put crosses into the box for their captain Luuk De Jong. They will look to free their wingers Hirving Lozano and Steven Bergwijn with through balls so they can draw fouls, cross into the box, or ultimately score themselves. PSV also excel at set-pieces, both defensively and offensively, which gives Spurs something to think about.

If Spurs are to progress into the knockout stages they will have to target home and away wins against PSV, which is far easier said than done, as PSV are not going to roll over and lose. Despite this, Spurs would be disappointed not to get six points from the two fixtures. As long as the Tottenham team perform to their ability then PSV are a side that they can find joy against.

Inter Milan

Star Player: Mauro Icardi

Serie A 2017/18: 4th

Champions League 2017/18: Did Not Qualify

Inter Milan were seen as the team to avoid out of pot 4. This summer they have done some good business, with Radja Nainggolan being the star signing, and despite losing first team players Rafinha and João Cancelo they have replaced them astutely. The transfer window is the main reason people are so high on Inter Milan right now, and rightly so as on paper they are a great side, but they haven’t had a great start to the season. This isn’t the best sign on their return to the Champions League for the first time in 6 years.

Inter Milan’s best side will be a very dangerous proposition and will be fighting with Spurs for second spot in Group B. Inter will look to dominate possession and territory at the San Siro so they can use their terrific wide options to feed the predatory Mauro Icardi. The game at the San Siro will be extremely important as it is the opening match of both sides’ European campaign. If Spurs can come away with a draw it’s a result they’ll happily take to wherever they play the home leg.

Inter Milan and Tottenham will be battling for the runners up spot in Group B and are teams in similar phases of development. Inter Milan are more comparable to where Spurs were last season, as they have quality but are still trying to learn how to win consistently, whereas I think Spurs will be bettered by the experience of last season’s mistakes and successes during their European campaign.

Overview

Spurs should feel confident about progressing to the knockout stages. Whether that be as winners or runners up isn’t important, since we saw last year with Tottenham that winning the group doesn’t guarantee an easy tie. If Spurs can progress then there is no reason why they can’t have a great run in the competition. I think a quarter final will be about par for Tottenham and anything more will be a massive achievement for the side.

Prediction

1st. Barcelona

2nd. Tottenham

3rd. Inter Milan

4th. PSV Eindhoven

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