Tottenham Hotspur, one of the three English teams alive in the Europa League, will host Italian side AC Fiorentina on Thursday night in what will be the first leg of the round of 32. Mauricio Pochettino should be aiming to progress in Europe as far as they can, having already confirmed their participation in the domestic league cup final fixture against Chelsea at Wembley on the 1st of March. The North London outfit have been sublime at home in 2015 with headline victories against fellow London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal although they go into this game on the back of a 3-2 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield. Recent form and history very well suggests a win for the home team as Spurs are unbeaten in their last 4 matches at home in European competitions (W3 D1) and the Argentine boss must be hoping for the same when they come up against a well equipped Fiorentina in their first competitive meeting with the Italians.
Fiorentina sit pretty in fourth place in the Serie A after their impressive victory against Sassuolo which saw them stretch their unbeaten run to six games in the league. They have enjoyed an impressive Europa League campaign so far with four wins and a draw in the group stages with the only loss coming against Dinamo Minsk in their final group encounter at home having secured qualification to the knockout stages already. Boss Vincenzo Montella who’s been in charge of proceedings since the June of 2012, has led his side to the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia after a near perfect performance from the Viola that enabled them overpower giants Roma in the last eight. With a two-legged tie against Juventus on the horizon, the diminutive Italian should be quietly confident about his chances of masterminding a famous win at the White Hart Lane.
The Argentine has reported a clean bill of health ahead of this midweek fixture meaning Pochettino will have the luxury of selecting his preferred starting 11 from a fairly large Spurs squad.
Montella has already announced his travelling Fiorentina squad yesterday that did not include ex-Manchester United and Newcastle forward Giuseppe Rossi and Bernanrdeschi. The match day squad is as follows,
Fiorentina (from) – Alonso, Aquilani, Babacar, Badelj, Basanta, Borja, Fernandez, Gomez, Gonzalo, Ilicic, Joaquin, Lazzari, Lezzerini, Neto, Pasqual, Pizarro, Richards, Salah, Savic, Tatarusanu, Tomovic, Vargas.
- Tottenham are unbeaten in five home matches against Italian sides in UEFA competition (W3 D2), and have not conceded in their last three home games against Serie A opposition.
- Fiorentina’s only previous two-legged knockout tie against English opponents was decided on penalties – the Viola squeezing past Everton FC on Merseyside in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup round of 16 in a shoot-out after the clubs had traded 2-0 home wins.
- Fiorentina (62.4%) and Tottenham (62%) are the two teams with the highest possession in this Europa League.
Christian Eriksen – Tottenham Hotspur
Eriksen was tipped to shine in his second season with Spurs after a tough initiation into the Premier League and the 23-year old is doing just that. With 9 goals and an assist in the Premier League in 25 appearances, Eriksen has been the main source of chance creation from the midfield, having created 58 chances from open play already. Hugo Lloris in a recent interview stated that Eriksen and Harry Kane have been central to what Tottenham have achieved so far which makes nothing but complete sense looking at the numbers associated with the players this season. Averaging a 83% success rate in pass accuracy and a remarkable 50% shots on target from midfield shows the impact he’s having on Tottenham and so does his ability to cause havoc from set pieces. With a bundle of experience playing in European competitions, Eriksen could be key to Tottenham’s chances of progressing further in Europe this season.
Mohamed Salah – Fiorentina
After a spell characterized by limited chances and a fine finish in the 6-0 demolition of Arsenal, Salah left Chelsea albeit on loan to join the Viola with Cuadrado going the other way. Salah looks to have already entered the good books of Montella after a man of the match performance against Sassuolo in the league where he grabbed a goal and an assist. The manager sounded out his intentions to play Salah more centrally on the back of that display where he could have more of a direct impact on goals playing off the main forward. He said,
“Salah can play well as a support striker, maybe even better than in his usual wide role, as long as he has the chance to move along the line.”
After being forced to play sporadically for so long, Salah is likely to relish his new role for Fiorentina and is capable of easing the loss of Cuadrado. Having settled in well at the club and quickly so, Salah is likely to have a large say in the outcome of Thursday’s game with the Egyptian playing for a point to prove in his return to London.
Home side to shade it. Eriksen winner and no prizes for guessing.