Tomorrow! Tottenham open up their first Champions League campaign in six years at Wembley Stadium against AS Monaco in a match that has Spurs fans absolutely giddy with anticipation.
There are still some lingering questions about this match, and we’re here to answer them.
How dangerous is Monaco, and should we be worried?
Punk: It’s really hard to say. They’ve opened up their Ligue 1 campaign about as well as they could hope, taking 10 of 12 points, including a 3-1 victory over PSG, who do not look like the PSG of last season. I don’t think they’re that dangerous, though. Their leading scorer is a defender in the name of Fabinho and their attacking band seems to be having issues generating scoring chances on a regular basis. Falcao will be back for them, reportedly, but it remains to be seen if that’s going to matter since he probably won’t even start.
Bryan A.: I don’t know if dangerous is a word I would use to describe Monaco. They’ve been stout defensively so far and are not conceding very many shots thanks to Fabinho’s move into midfield and the addition of Kamil Glick in the backline. Going forward guys like Bernardo Silva, Joao Moutinho, and Thomas Lemar are creative and can spark moments of brilliance, but they lack a real goal scorer. Most of Monaco’s chances come from getting the ball down the wing and then cutting it back to the top of the box for trailing midfielders to rifle on goal (like this). If Spurs can remain positionally sound and prevent attacks down the flanks, I think Monaco will be at a loss for ideas.
Menno: I’ll be the first to say that I haven’t watched any Monaco this season, so I defer to Bryan’s opinions here on their chances. They were pretty trash last season, but they’ve gotten ten points out of a possible 12 thus far in Ligue 1 which includes a 3-1 home win over PSG. Worried? Not really, but I’m not looking past them, either. Beyond that, I wouldn’t mind getting a chance to see their 17-year old striker phenom Kylian Mbappe in action tomorrow, as he’s supposed to be fantastic.
Alex G: Monaco have had a really solid start to the season in Ligue 1, but I’m not that worried or scared for the game. They’ve definitely improved from the team we dominated in the Europa League last year at White Hart Lane, but I still think we’re the better side. Falcao is finally back from his loan-tour of England, and it would be classic Spurs if we were the team he scored against to announce his return from the footballing-wilderness. But unless Radamel can find his form from a few seasons ago, we are the clear favorites.
Who starts for Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday?
Punk: Pochettino will play his strongest squad available. I have zero doubt with this. Lamela got a rest on Saturday after playing for Argentina and we know Moose has been chomping at the bit to get back. Rose not being healthy hurts a bit, but Davies played well on Saturday against Stoke and will be just fine.
Bryan A.: I think we’ll see more of the same from Spurs in this match, just because it’s the first match of the campaign. Later on, I won’t be surprised to see Pochettino rotate, but for now, it has to be his strongest XI. That lineup almost certainly includes Mousa Dembele and if he’s match fit, then there’s no reason he doesn’t start ahead of Victor Wanyama. I suppose rotating Kane, Eriksen, Walker, or Lamela out is also a possibility, but I think Spurs will look exactly how they looked last season (minus Danny Rose) when they were at their best.
Menno: This isn’t the Europa League. You don’t rotate in the reserves in the Champions League in order to focus on this Sunday’s Premier League match against Sunderland. In fact, it’s probably the exact opposite. I do think we see Mousa Dembele make his 2016-17 debut against Monaco in the pivot beside Eric Dier, and there’s a not-zero percent chance we see either Son Heung-Min or Moussa Sissoko get a start, but otherwise I don’t think wild horses could keep the rest of the non-injured first choice players out of the starting 11.
Alex G: What Menno said. This is no average cup competition. We need to start the strongest team we possibly can. That means Dembele/Dier in the midfield, and it means Toby/Jan at the back in front of Hugo. Davies is probably the best backup LB in the Prem, and I’ve got no doubts he can do the job. On another occasion I’d say Son’s performance against Stoke should earn him a start, but Lamela was clearly rested with this game in mind. The only real question for me is if Dele will get the start ahead of Sissoko, and I think he will. Dele is a big game player, let the new signing be our super-sub.
How might Wembley affect both the style of play and the atmosphere of the match?
Punk: This is going to be an electric atmosphere. While I’m sure everyone was hoping that White Hart Lane would get her swan song and see Champions League football being played in the final season, this is quite the alternative. Close to 90,000 Spurs supporters singing and cheering is going to be something special and, if Spurs get going early, I can see Monaco getting rattled and not being able to recover.
Bryan A.: GN Punk pretty much hit the atmosphere thing on the head, so I’ll address something different: the pitch. Arsene Wenger famously remarked that the Wembley pitch really hindered Arsenal during the season they played Champions League football there, but Spurs seem to be preparing for the sheer enormity of the playing surface by practicing on a Wembley-sized pitch at Hotspur Way. I worry that the bigger spaces will hurt Tottenham, who like to compress play, but I’m hopeful that Pochettino will have the squad drilled and ready for all the extra space.
Menno: I’m still sad that we can’t host matches at White Hart Lane, but 90k fans in Wembley more than makes up for that in my mind. It won’t be as intimate, but it’ll be just as intimidating. And frankly, I’m looking forward to seeing what Kyle Walker and Christian Eriksen can do with all that extra space.
Alex G: I’m a little worried about the atmosphere at Wembley next season for league matches, but our fans will have no issues getting loud for our first Champions League game in six years. I expect a nervy start because of the stage and the occasion, but ultimately the fans will get behind the team and push them on. If we score you’ll be able to hear the roar of the crowd all the way from White Hart Lane.
Punk: It’s been six years since Spurs have been in the best club competition in the world. We’ve all been itching to see this, and I cannot imagine Spurs dropping this first match in the group stage in front of 90,000 people. I think the attack puts it together early, Moose kicks the rust off early on, and the defense is as stout as ever. 3-0 Spurs
Bryan A.: Remember the pasting we handed Monaco in last year’s Europa League? Yeah, I wouldn’t count on that happening again. This Monaco team is better and more experienced than last year’s vintage. Still, I think the atmosphere gives Spurs a huge boost. 2-0 Spurs.
Menno: There will be 90,000 Tottenham fans (OK, OK, 85k + 5k Monaco fans) in Wembley. You can complain about the atmosphere at Wembley all you want, but it’s unprecedented to have such a huge, partisan crowd in attendance for a match that doesn’t involve the England national team. That crowd is going to be fantastic, and there will be numerous “Spurs are on their way to Wembley” chants. I predict a slow start, two quick goals in the second half, and a comfortable 2-0 win.
Alex G: It’s tough for me to put into words just how excited I am for this game, but that excitement will turn to anxiety after Monaco’s first real sight of goal. I would not be surprised if the nerves of our players show through via a defensive mistake. We may have to initially come from behind, but ultimately we’ll get the three points. A 2-1 victory and the return of Christian Eriksen’s Late Show as he bags the winner.