We are just hours away from Tottenham's debut competitive game in the 2011-12 season... only instead of it coming hosting Everton in a Premiership opener, it comes on a Thursday night in Scotland vs. Hearts. Love it or hate it, Tottenham is in Europe's second tier competition this year, providing a unique challenge for the whole squad.
Only the most cynical Spurs supporter would say that Tottenham's entry in the Europa League is a complete waste. The competition is not only is a financial boost for the club, but also raises the profile of the club continent-wide. It provides a fantastic proving ground for young Tottenham players, one that the club has lacked as academy products have failed to break through. And perhaps most importantly, it provides extra chances for Spurs supporters to watch the club they love.
But as much as it is important for Tottenham to give it a go in the Europa League, the focus needs to remain on returning to the top-4 in the Premiership. The true starting XI needs to remain together, fresh for league play. It is with that Harry Redknapp needs to create a second squad, one for Europa League and Cup play. And here's the men that should make it up:
Goalkeeper: Brad Friedel- There is no better man to lead Tottenham into the Europa League than the veteran Friedel. Friedel should help organize a young, experimental side and give some stability at the back. At the same time, playing in the Europa League should help Friedel get more comfortable with the squad and provide a legitimate 1A option should Gomes falter in the league.
Right Back: Kyle Walker- After the combination of Vedran Corluka and Alan Hutton failed to impress last season at right back, it may upset many to see Tottenham's class young prospect relegated to the Europa League. But as much as Walker impressed on loan with QPR and Aston Villa last season, he still needs to improve before coming a no-doubt Premiership starter.
Walker's defending is still questionable, and his comfort working within a Tottenham defensive unit is questionable after limited time with the club over the past few years. Europe League should help Walker fully reach his potential in the first half of they year, helping to put him in the position to break through as the star the Tottenham faithful believe he can be.
Center Backs: Sebastien Bassong and Younes Kaboul- An interesting pairing, with veterans taking the place of younger talent with Bongani Khumalo and Steven Caulker loaned out for the season. Both Bassong and Kaboul are here for different reasons, but it seems very likely that they will form the core of the defense to carry the team.
Bassong has had plenty of chances at the first team center half job since arriving from Newcastle two seasons ago, but has yet to prove that he has the quality to be a starting defender for Tottenham. Still, Bassong has talent that he has shown on occasion and earned him plaudits with the Cameroon National Team.
As for Kaboul, he's proven to be a jack of all trades, master of none so far in his career, filling in at defensive midfield, right back, and centerback without establishing a true position. Last year seemed to prove though that Kaboul's best position may be CB, so Europa experience should help him get the last experience to establish himself at the position.
Left Back: Danny Rose- After impressing as an emergency left back last season, the Europa League provides a great opportunity to further Rose's development as a dynamic LB. With no true back-up at the position behind Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Rose's play in the Europa League should help give Tottenham needed depth at the longtime problem spot.
Wingers: Andros Townsend and Niko Kranjcar/David Bentley- Andros Townsend provides an example of true youngsters getting a chance with Tottenham through the Europa League. The former Milwall loanee has impressed in his brief appearances with Spurs, and will look to put on his best Bale impersonation down the left wing.
As for a right winger, there are extensive rumors right now about both Niko Kranjcar and David Bentley leaving the club. It's tough to imagine that both players will leave the club before the end of the window, so look for whoever stays to be a major asset to the European effort.
Central Midfielders: Jake Livermore and Jermaine Jenas- Livermore has been present throughout the preseason with the first team and seems to be earmarked as a Europa League contributor. A strong player in the center of the pitch, Livermore should add some steel and energy to the Tottenham midfield.
As for his partner in the center of the pitch, Redknapp admitted himself that Jake is the only central midfielder the team has healthy. But assuming all midfielders return to fitness, Jenas may be the guy Harry tips to be a Europa League contributor. This level of play should allow Jenas to shine, turning the mercurial midfielder into a talisman for the continental game.
Strikers: Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavluychenko- All indications have Peter Crouch and Rafael van der Vaart as Tottenham's starting pair in attack, leaving Defoe and Pav to find form in the Europa League. Given Harry's past, Redknapp's always apt to play the form player at striker. So if either of these two start pouring in the goals, look for their league playing time to rise.
Super Subs: Harry Kane, Souleymane Coulibaly, Cristian Ceballos, Dean Parrett, and John Bostock- We already broke down Kane vs. Coulibaly in this Tale of the Tape yesterday for the striker job. Expect to see either Barca signing Ceballos or English U-20 player Parrett become an impact winger off the bench in the cups as the fall goes on.
And as for Bostock, his role on the club is a mystery. He may start today, or he may not be seen again this season. He impressed in the preseason, but had a largely dreadful loan with Hull City last season. Keep an eye out for the fascinating 19-year old.