Tottenham Hotspur correspondent at Evening Standard, Dan Kilpatrick discusses what Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich can expect to face against last season’s Champions League runners-up.
Tottenham Hotspur haven’t been in great form so far this season, do you think they can get a result against Bayern Munich?
Yes I think they can. It’s been a bit difficult to say with Spurs this season, because they looked like they turned a corner after the European transfer window closed by beating Palace 4-0 – they looked back to their best. And then they had a couple of poor results and performances. Last weekend against Southampton looked like a turning point, they really battled with 10 men, but obviously that didn’t prove the case previously so I’m a bit reluctant to say they are ‘back’. But I think Spurs under Pochettino are good at raising their game for the really big matches. You look at the Real Madrid game, the Barcelona game away last year, obviously the knockouts last year, there are many examples of them really upping their game. I wouldn’t be hugely confident given the way they’ve started this season, but I think they will raise their game tomorrow.
How much importance is Pochettino placing upon the Champions League this season after last year’s exploits?
I think he is always the type of manager who is going to prioritise the Premier League and the Champions League, but he’s also come out and said that he wont consider this season a success unless he wins a trophy. Now obviously, you have to consider that they are already out of the League Cup, but you wonder whether, if they get a couple of kind draws in the FA Cup, he might take that competition a bit more seriously than he already has. But there is pressure on Spurs to succeed, I think if they don’t get to the quarter-finals of the CL it’s going to be a failure after what they achieved last year, and Pochettino does not want to be labelled a failure. Of course, he will consider it a huge disappointment if he doesn’t get through this group.
What did you make of their Matchday 1 performance against Olympiacos and where can improvements be made?
My take is that it wasn’t that bad of a result, I think it was possibly overblown by Pochettino and people in the dressing room acting like it was a very poor result, but actually its really difficult to go to Olympiacos. They don’t often get beaten at home, it’s a really hard atmosphere to play in, it’s really hot, and they’re actually not a bad side at all. So I think it was a good result given all of that. When you look at what Liverpool did on Matchday 1, it shows you how difficult the Champions League is, but obviously having gone 2-0 up somewhat fortuitously, it was a kind of failure of concentration and mental strength, it was just too sloppy to conceded that goal right before half time. And that’s been a common theme in Europe – losing concentration at key moments, be it at the start of the game, the start of the second half. They just need to make sure they are switched on for 90 minutes really.
Team news ahead of Tuesday night’s clash – Will Pochettino look to rotate?
Yes, I expect he will rotate, I think Lamela and Lucas are players he likes to use in Europe, Lucas has got a phenomenal record in the Champions League. Lamela is kind of perfect for this game, he is aggressive, he works hard, he will lead the press. So I think those two will come into the front line. I’m not sure who comes out to be honest, because I think Eriksen and Son both look good, but you may have to sacrifice one of them. he’s obviously got a decision to make at full-back as well, Aurier got sent off at the weekend so he’ll be fresh, but I don’t think Pochettino was very impressed by that – so he could drop out. And then it’s a question of who comes in, I don’t want to see Sanchez there again, on the other side I think Davies Is more likely to play than Rose, as he did against Olympiacos.
Ndombele scored at the weekend and has generally integrated well in the squad. He impressed in the CL at Camp Nou and the Etihad last season, so can he become a big game player for Spurs in Europe?
Yes I think so, I think he has shown glimpses so far that he is going to be a key protagonist, a key player in the next chapter of Tottenham. He is still getting up to speed, he is still adjusting so I don’t think he will dominate Bayern like he did for Lyon, just because he isn’t bedded in at Tottenham. But yes, certainly in the future he is going to be a really important signing, and if he can step up in big games, all the better.
How have you found Champions League nights at the new Stadium so far, and can the improved atmosphere become a theme in Europe for Spurs?
Yes, I think it certainly can be, it was phenomenal there for the Ajax and Man City games last season, I can’t really remember a better atmosphere at an English football game, albeit I cover Spurs games mainly. So yeah, they can make that a real fortress in Europe. Their home form actually hasn’t been great while they have been there. But they’ve got a real feel for these European nights already from last season’s run, they got a big landmark win under their belts in the City game. So I think home advantage will be a big feature for Spurs tomorrow and in the years ahead.
On Bayern, they’re a side in transition right now, with a number of experienced players departing this summer. But in the last few weeks they have started to improve, with 3 good wins. Is this a good time to be playing the German champions?
Yes, probably. I think Spurs wouldn’t really be wanting to play peak Bayern from a few years ago with their current full-backs, because I think Ribery and Robben would have had a field day, so in that respect, now is probably a better time to be playing them rather than a couple of years ago. But I still think Bayern are a top side, they’re not going to give Spurs an easy night. One of the things to also consider is that teams like Bayern know how to win in the Champions League, it almost doesn’t matter what players they’ve got, it’s part of the clubs’ DNA. I think Spurs are getting there but there is still a question mark over their mentality if you like, which they showed again against Olympiacos – I think it’s going to be a tough game, whoever Bayern play.
How far do you think Spurs will go in the Champions League this season?
I think quarter finals is probably about realistic, it’s going to be really really tough to replicate what they did last year, I think they should have enough to get through the group, probably finishing behind Bayern. But what we’ve seen from Spurs is a step closer to this big club mentality where they feel like they belong at this level. I don’t think they are there yet – with the Bayern’s, Reals and Barcelona’s – but they’ve certainly taken big steps in the last few seasons, and they’ve gone from just being happy to play the big teams, to actually thinking they can get results against them, and that’s a key mindset shift. I think quarter-finals is realistic, but they’ll be gutted if they don’t get into the knockout rounds.
By Tom Fenton.